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Saturday, December 22, 2012

How the WHS RAMS saved Christmas. It's a wonderful life.

Before I begin, let me say that this post contains no recipes, cooking advice or food science. What it does contain are my feeble efforts to communicate a wonderful thing that I experienced. Also, I'm not a photographer so some of the pictures are blurry. I hope they convey some of the wonder of a very special night.

 Like a lot of people on Facebook I have become re-acquainted with many of the people I went to High School with and luckily I still live in the same city so I get to see them frequently. They have been a great blessing to me in the tough times we have all experienced in this last handful of years.
 About a month ago one of our alumni; Mary, posted a plea for help. She works with foster kids that are approaching the age when they will be let out of the system, she helps them get food, clothing and above all, she gives them love. I wish I was half the human she is.

 The Following are her words. 
My dear WHS peeps. Thank you for taking a moment to read this, it will give you an idea what I am up against. I run a program for teenagers who are in or aging out of the foster care system. Our Holiday party is December 20 at 5:30. We have 300 kids in our program, we will hopefully get at least 1/2 of them there for a home cooked meal. It is the one time of year that I try to go all out, to have fresh baked goods, because they always get day old out of a box in their groups homes etc. We have several kiddos that are homeless or couch surfing, so we pack as many to go containers as there is food left to be sure that they get through the weekend. We qualify for the working poor tax credit, so a married couple can donate 400.00 to us that goes directly to gift cards for the kiddos and you get it ALL back in your AZ tax refund, as this is a dollar for dollar tax credit. You also get the deduction on the federal return, so you actually make money by donating. A single person can donate 200 and get it ALL back. We need gift cards to fast food places, target, wal mart and ross, places that we can stretch the dollars, what we come up with is the only gifts that these kiddos get. The clothing allowance for a young person in foster care is 150. a YEAR!! This includes shoes, socks, bras etc...When you think about that for a moment you cant help but know that there is something you can do to make a difference in the life of a child.... we have to try to get them gifts that help fill in the gaps. We would be so grateful for anything and everything that you would like to do! The meal and gift giving is December 20 at 5:30 on Tatum and Paradise and it will be a very fun and crazy night!! 

 All I did, really, was to say I would be there. I have loads of catering experience so I hoped I could at least be useful. That, and I "shared" her message on some of out local alumni pages. I then sent an E-mail to my old boss, Steve Short at Atlasta Catering where I used to work to ask his advice on what to do. 
 He sent back a reply that I truly was not expecting. "You can count on us for anything you need. Turkey, stuffing, vegetables, just let me know." More about that later.

 As the date approached I called again, it's his busiest time of year so I knew it was a lot to ask to just give away a bunch of food. I was really only asking for maybe a Cambro (for those who don't know that's an insulated container that caterers use to keep food hot.) of product. At least it would be something. As a side note, Steve once said to me "Accept the challenge first, then figure out how to make it happen." Good words. 

 In the meantime, Mary kept posting to remind people how much any help would be appreciated. Times are tough. Imagine how tough they are for these kids. We got some encouraging responses. Mostly though, all we got was silence. Or so I thought. 

WHS Alum, Susie
 On the day of the event I packed a duffel bag full of anything I thought I could use, a chef coat, some dish-outs, extra hand towels. I had to work at my real job that morning but one of my dear WHS friends was picking me up at 3pm to go help me pick up the food from Atlasta. That's when things started to get amazing. 

 Steve had ready for us, FOUR Cambros. I was stunned. It gets better, trust me. Even with that amount we were expecting maybe up to 300 teenagers. Barely a dent. I should have more faith. I really really should but I didn't know or had forgotten how magnificent humans can be. 

  Forgive me again. I'm an idiot. I have spent so much time wondering why people couldn't just stop being a sack of dicks to each other and realize that everyone is just as scared and fragile as themselves. Didn't someone come by once to tell us that? Isn't this season about that? I keep hoping. 

 Now I have proof. Wait for it. 

 We pulled up to the church hall where we would be serving. There were already a fair amount of volunteers wandering around. We introduced ourselves and drug what we had into the kitchen area. Small oven, some tables and chairs in the hall. A Christmas tree in the corner, looked pretty challenging. Someone had some Au Gratin Potatoes and Green-Bean casserole warming in the tiny oven. OK, well.....OK

  Loaves and Fishes, I kept saying to myself. It'll be ok. We'll make it work. I didn't know how, truly. God, I've become so cynical. I didn't used to be. 

 Mary is amazing, she knew the whole time. She does the Lord's work. 

 Another Alum showed up, I knew she would. Ricki had Ham and Pasta Salad and Cookies. 

me and Ricki

Then more WHS RAMS arrived bringing more. I got them organized and we got a two-sided buffet set up. 
 An army of volunteers plus RAMS. I began to see it. 

loaves and fishes

 The kids started to arrive. St Nicholas pray for us. More and more people arrived to help. Heaps of stuffing, ham and turkey, macaroni and cheese, more and more. As soon as we worried we wouldn't have enough the door would open and more would come. Rolls, salads, piles of turkeys, mounds of cupcakes, brownies, cookies. It was crazy trying to rotate one dish into the oven and back out again. I lost my voice just trying to keep it organized. Our good Lord was in attendance. I have no other explanation. 

 I kept seeing WHS alum arrive. Asking what they could do. Tom and his family. Patti brought cupcakes, best ever. Jamie and her lovely little girl Tatum who just helped in anyway they could. I still didn't know how much the RAMS had made it possible. 

 My friends, all I can do is to serve. I'm not smart, I'm not strong. In the face of something like this I can only keep up. 

 Then Santa Claus showed up, of course. 

I danced. 

The dessert table GROANED under the weight. We had stacks more under the table. 

 It kept coming. Music, laughter, food. Tonight, we all knew wealth and riches of how amazing people can be. I became friends with a leather and jean clad biker dude who volunteered as dish-washer. His name is Mongo, he and his wife, Cat are now some of my best friends. 


giving out to-go boxes
packing up boxes
We had more help then I knew what to do with. There was one dude, he was a great Sous-Chef. His wife's name was Mary. I hope to see you next time. 

 Someone brought us 1000 (YES) take-out containers. We set up an assembly line and sent ALL the kids home with loads of food. They will eat well for this week-end. Loaves and fishes.

 We cleaned up. 

Our Alum Mary. She carries the heart of what it means to be a WHS RAM

It wasn't until the following morning that I learned how much the WHS RAMS had made that night possible. Jeff, Kevin, Julie, Lisa, Cindy, Tom, Debbie, Heidi and many others sent funds and gift cards. 

Again, I only serve. I am not smart or strong. What I can do, I do. I bid you all a Merry Christmas. 

Here's some images from that night. 

I believe in Santa

proud to be a WHS RAM

I love my Ricki

our lovely Jamie and Tatum. 


Ricki, Tatum and me

Merry Christmas. Remember what that means.
Cooking poor, eating rich
get your grub on


  1. Nick,

    This is Christmas, nothing else seems important now. Thanks for making me cry first thing on Sunday morning. Wishing I lived in Phoenix for a few hours on a Saturday night. You guys were all Christmas angels yesterday. Love you, Reneene

  2. Nick,

    You put that whole evening so beautifully into words. I can't tell you how profoundly grateful I am to have reconnected with so many of my WHS Rams (even those I did not know well in high school have become such dear friends to me now). I am also so profoundly grateful to Mary for sharing her kids with us for the night and allowing us to be a part of making Christmas special for them. Loaves and Fish is truly the only way to describe how God provided for that event! Love you tons and Merry Christmas to you and yours. Ricki

    1. The whole experience profoundly impacted my Christmas. Just overwhelmed.

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  4. So happy to hear WHS Rams made such a wonderful night for so many love y'all and Merry Christmas
    Cathy Harkin