It's the most wonderful time of the year. But some of the ways we mark the holiday season — exchanging gifts, settling in with family — are difficult to do when you have no money and you have no home.
Charities that work with people experiencing homelessness are well aware of this. Here's how the partners in The Washington Post Helping Hand try to make things a little more wonderful.
"We have mothers who may be away from their children at Christmastime," said Kenyatta Brunson, director of programs at N Street Village, a charity that works with District women. "We have women that have experienced very traumatic situations and the holidays aren't always the happiest time of year. For some people, you might see an increase in depression."
N Street Village provides a much-needed sense of community. At Patricia Handy Place, the shelter N Street Village runs in Chinatown that can accommodate 213 women, the members of Tifereth Israel Congregation will provide a special lunch Monday.
At the charity's flagship location near Thomas Circle, Laurie Williams, N Street Village's kitchen manager, will cook a Christmas feast, with ham, brisket, sweet potatoes and rolls. "This is her gift to the women," Brunson said.
And every single woman in N Street's various programs will receive a pair of pajamas.
Said Brunson: "Who doesn't want brand-new, cozy pajamas on a cold winter night? For some women, that might be the only gift they get."
To donate to N Street Village, visit posthelpinghand.com or make a check payable to "N Street Village" and mail it to: N Street Village, ATTN: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
In the days leading up to Christmas, storerooms and offices at So Others Might Eat on O Street NW start getting crowded with thousands of boxes, stacked liked colorful bricks. They're part of a SOME tradition called the Holiday Shoebox Gift.
Each box is stocked by donors with essential items: five articles of clothing (a hat, scarf, pair of gloves, pair of socks and pair of underwear), seven hygiene items (soap, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant and two razors), and for women, sanitary napkins or tampons.
The gifts are utilitarian, but Daryl Wright, director of food services, material donations and volunteer services at SOME, said clients appreciate them. They also enjoy the simple act of opening them.
"I like that you get to rip off the paper and tear off the bow," Wright said. "That brings back a fond memory from when your life was in a better place."
SOME serves breakfast and lunch all year, including on Christmas Day. The crowd on Christmas is smaller than on other days. The vans that ferry the homeless from shelters to SOME aren't running.
"Also, for the homeless population, Christmas may be one of the rare days when your family allows you to come home," Wright said.
For those who do come to SOME, there will be a live band and a "double protein" meal: glazed ham and oven-roasted turkey. And for afterward: On every table will be a do-it-yourself gingerbread house kit for clients to collaborate on.
To donate to So Others Might Eat visit posthelpinghand.com or make a check payable to "So Others Might Eat" and mail it to SOME, ATTN: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.
There are many special events during the holidays at Bright Beginnings, a preschool for children in homeless families. At a Christmas party thrown by the Junior League of Washington, each child receives a gift bag that includes a book.
For cash-strapped parents who can't afford to give gifts, there's the holiday store. It illustrates how Bright Beginnings serves two generations.
"We try to make it look as much like a real store as possible," said Jeanay Bullock, workforce development manager at Bright Beginnings.
Toys are arranged in a room on the third floor of the Perry School on M Street NW.
"At the beginning of the school year, the parents sign a parent contract," explained Bullock. The more activities a parent participates in, the more points he or she accrues.
"You had to touch bases all over," said Bullock: going to parent-teacher meetings, attending the school's Literacy Night, taking advantage of job-placement workshops and other duties.
Said Bullock: "Participation is incentivized."
Those parents who have accumulated at least 200 points may go to the holiday store and select toys and clothing for their children. This year, 87 of the 99 parents enrolled in the program did.
And to wrap things up? Parents get free wrapping paper, too.
To donate to Bright Beginnings, visit posthelpinghand.com or make a check payable to "Bright Beginnings" and send it to: Bright Beginnings, ATTN: Helping Hand, 128 M St. NW, Suite 150, Washington, D.C. 20001.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.