Last Christmas season, I left readers with the following challenge: “I hope this Christmas season is extraordinary for you and your loved ones. Don’t let Christmas Eve pass without looking for a chance to make it so for someone else.”

Cooley walt polo
Editor and Podcast Host / Progressive Dairy

( Click here to read the full editorial.)

Not being one to issue a challenge without doing it myself, I searched my mind for someone for whom I could provide a better Christmas.

I didn’t intend to publicly report of my charity, but the experience touched me so much I hope it will have meaning for you too.

I know the man only as Ed. The only time I met the 50-plus-year-old was while visiting a fellow church member’s trailer home in November 2010.


His appearance was grizzled but his spirit was humble. He openly acknowledged he’d had some rough spots in life.

He had been married but was no longer committed. He had held many jobs but was not currently employed. He once thought his life’s future was bright but wasn’t sure anymore.

I asked where he lived; he said he was staying with the family from our church. I was a bit puzzled where he could lodge with them.

The trailer had only two bedrooms, and those were occupied by the father, his expectant wife and their two children.

During the course of our hour-long visit, Ed divulged that he only showered in the house and admitted he had a room outside. I became suspicious of his accommodations.

Standing on the doorstep preparing to leave, I boldly asked Ed if he would show me where he was staying. He obliged and led me a short walk away from the front wooden porch to the side of the trailer.

A white shed stood, or more accurately leaned, on the spot there. The unit looked like something you would store a lawnmower or some garden tools in.

Ed pulled open the door, which had no lock. Besides a single light, a space heater and a cot, the inside of the dwelling looked like a tool shed.

I wondered how Ed kept warm at night as the shed and its door were neither insulated nor airtight. His flimsy sleeping bag was too thin to protect against cold, windy Idaho nights. He kept all his personal belongings in a medium backpack beside his bed.

What surprised me most was that someone who lived in such meager circumstances could be so cheery. Without much of earthly possessions, his face and voice still communicated that everything would be fine, as his words seemed to optimistically say, “Less is more, right?”

Knowing almost immediately that Ed was the man who could use, maybe even deserved, a better Christmas, I asked Ed what he wanted most.

Guessing that he would say that he didn’t need anything or would shrug off my question, I waited for his response.

Ed paused briefly then replied, “A new coat.”

As we stood in the cold night air, I in my overcoat and he in his worn T-shirt, his answer responded to his most immediate need – to stay warm.

I joked that maybe Santa Claus would bring him one, but only with a shallow laugh. We both knew how that would turn out. As I left the scene, I determined to see his wish most certainly fulfilled.

Early Christmas morning, my car left the back alley nearest Ed’s shed. A package lay on the ground outside his door. A new Carhartt work coat and stocking stuffed with personal items were inside.

I didn’t get to see Ed’s face that morning nor have I seen him since. He is still very much a stranger to me.

But in helping Ed, I felt less of a stranger to Him born in meekness and laid in a manager. And that made last Christmas, and others forever forthcoming, more meaningful and worth it all. PD