Christmas is a time for gift-giving, spending time with the family, and eating yourself into a near-comatose state. And, while these are admirable goals, it is also important to celebrate those who use the yuletide season to give back to their communities.
Some people just embody the spirit of Christmas. From the volunteers in soup kitchens to the emergency services personnel who work on Christmas Day, it is often the unsung heroes of society who make Christmas that little bit cheerier. With that in mind, we take a look at just some of the incredible sacrifices that ordinary people have made over the holiday season. These are the saviors of Christmas.
On Christmas Eve 2017, Crystal Travis was driving to meet her husband when she noticed something unusual. Off in the distance, the North Carolina woman could see flames spreading along the roof of a family home. Crystal drove through the neighboring yards to get to the property, pulling up just outside the smoke-filled home. She and her daughter sprang from the car and set about helping the family.
A mother ran from the burning building, cradling her baby. Meanwhile, the father was frantically unloading the house of baby items and Christmas gifts. Crystal risked her life to help save the family’s possessions.
“Then, all of the sudden, the propane tank on the porch explodes. It shakes the ground, and you can just feel it. There’s smoke everywhere. It’s hard to breathe,” Crystal explained.
Crystal told her husband, Roger Travis, about the fire and that she had inhaled a lot of smoke. Since Roger was an emergency medical technician, he decided to go check on them. But Roger was destined to encounter an emergency of his own.
While driving to meet his family, the EMT came across a car accident. Two people were attempting CPR on a baby at the side of the road. Roger immediately stopped the car and took over. With the aid of an on-duty firefighter, Roger managed to revive the child.
“I believe God put us at the right place at the right time, and, right now, I’m more concerned about the two families who still need help,” Roger concluded.
The baby stopped breathing for around seven minutes. According to the baby’s grandfather, however, there was no permanent damage.
In 2017, a California man decided to give something back to the community. Over the festive period, Kenneth Vieira started repairing bikes and presenting them as Christmas gifts to local children.
Vieira went around Manteca hunting for old, unused bikes. He then took the bikes back to his garage and, with the help of his son, got them back into working order. Vieira and his family have spent hours taking the bikes apart and fitting replacement parts. Vieira’s young niece, Makenzie, enjoys cleaning the bikes, despite her ongoing struggle with a degenerative hip issue.
“We started picking up bikes with a trailer, just ‘parts bikes’ here and there . . . And we use a couple of [parts] bikes to produce one nice bike,” explained Vieira.
Vieira created a Facebook page—Manteca Bikes for Kids—to showcase his passion. The page shows photos of all the donated bikes and their new owners. It also provides bike safety tips for kids and information on how the community can tackle bike theft.
Vieira makes sure that the adult bikes are donated to shelters. He hopes these donations will be used to provide homeless people with a means of transportation.
The humble family man offered the following inspiring words: “There [are] other people waiting for something to come to them and you can be that gift to them. You can be that person delivering them from the same problems you’re going through.”
In the run-up to Christmas in 2013, a Las Vegas cab driver transported a poker player to the Palms Place Hotel. Unfortunately, the absentminded passenger accidentally left one of his bags in the taxi. The driver, Gerardo Gamboa, thought nothing more of it and collected another passenger.
While en route to his next destination, Gamboa took a quick peek in the bag, only to discover it was stuffed to the brim with $100 bills. The money amounted to a staggering $300,000.
A less scrupulous taxi driver might have ended up on a beach in Hawaii, drinking mai tais and fanning himself with a palm leaf. But Gamboa, wanting to “do the right thing,” gave back the money.
Gamboa handed the bag over to his manager at Yellow Checker Star Transportation, and the cash was eventually returned to its rightful owner. The cab company made Gamboa its Driver of the Year, awarding him $1,000 and a restaurant dinner.
When the gambler reclaimed his winnings, he insisted on shaking Gamboa’s hand. He also pledged to give Gamboa a generous reward.
“I’m not waiting for any kind of return,” Gamboa said at the time. “I just wanted to do the right thing, and I appreciate what the company did for me.”
True to his word, the poker player returned to the taxi company and gave Gamboa $10,000. Gamboa said he intended to donate some of the money to his church. The rest, he said, would go in the bank.
Bob and Sandy Ellis have an expensive way of celebrating Christmas. Every year, the couple donate Christmas gifts to underprivileged schoolchildren across Nevada. In 2017 alone, the pair donated an eye-watering $200,000 worth of presents.
Bob Ellis is a prolific businessman. He was formerly the CEO of Snap Towing and owned his own auctioning company. He is currently the manager of R&S Investment Properties.
Mr. and Mrs. Ellis like to see children enjoying the Christmas festivities. So, with all that money and no grandkids on the horizon, the couple organize their own substitute Christmases in local schools. The event usually kicks off with a talk from Santa Claus, before the children are showered with goodies.
The couple ensure that the kids are given grade-appropriate presents. In 2017, first-grade boys received sets of Hot Wheels, while fifth-graders bagged tablet computers and mini-drones. Bob and Sandy also gave the children brand-new pairs of shoes. Over the years, they have bought tens of thousands of shoes for needy children.
“Without education, you can’t get a good job. We want to keep these kids in school and give them a better education and show these kids that people out there love them,” explained Bob Ellis.
In 2015, the Ellises were named Distinguished Nevadans for their contributions to education.
Not everyone has $200,000 to spare, naturally. When it comes to helping the homeless, though, even the smallest of gestures can make a big difference.
In 2017, Jesse Parmer thought about the ways that she could help her community over the Christmas holidays. The 17-year-old came up with the idea of feeding the homeless after watching a Christmas show with her mother. The teen joined forces with her family and friends to form “The Burger Bunch.”
On Christmas Day, Jesse purchased 100 burgers. The Burger Bunch then spent the afternoon handing out burgers to Oklahoma City’s large homeless population.
“It should be less about the presents and more about giving to people who don’t have the means to do that,” Jesse said.
Jesse plans to assemble the Burger Bunch on an annual basis. Last month, she started taking donations for her Christmas 2018 burger run. The team has also handed out teddy bears to disadvantaged children and donated blankets, jackets, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.
“Our mission is to serve God through serving others . . . bringing the Christmas spirit and a burger to those who may otherwise feel forgotten,” Jesse explained on her GoFundMe page.
The small coastal town of Wye River in Victoria, Australia, was abandoned for the 2015 Christmas holidays. Less than a week before Christmas, a lightning strike triggered a bushfire in the Otway National Park. The blaze continued for weeks, forcing local residents and tourists to flee the area.
By Christmas Day, powerful winds had allowed the fire wall to breach its containment lines. The inferno rapidly spread to Wye River and Separation Creek, laying waste to everything in its path.
Firefighters worked tirelessly to save Wye River. A team of just eight people battled the fire, taking on what should have been a 20-man job. Meanwhile, a strike team came in to defend Separation Creek, and firefighting aircraft dumped water over the flames. The crews worked into the night to defend the townspeople’s houses.
“I couldn’t believe that we’ve saved as many houses as what we’ve saved,” said local County Fire Authority captain Roy Moriarty. The captain went on to praise his colleagues and the spirit of the community.
Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull echoed Moriarty’s sentiments: “This has been a great example, a case study, if you like, of how triumph through good planning, through leadership, through courage, professionalism, coordination, between the state government, between the emergency management services.”
“Changing the World, two feet at a time.” That is the mantra 14-year-old Olivia Vibbert has followed since trying to establish her own nonprofit.
In 2016, at just 12 years of age, Vibbert asked for sock donations to help the homeless endure the winter months. The seventh-grader recognized that socks are one of the most needed, yet least donated, items for homeless people. Olivia also has firsthand experience of what it is like to be homeless. After falling on hard times, the Vibbert family lived in a homeless shelter for seven weeks.
So, Olivia created the “Cold Feet, Warm Hearts” charity and started a series of “sock drives.” The campaign started out with the lofty goal of 1,000 sock donations—a milestone that was achieved in mere days. Socks were sent from countries around the world, including the US, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, Norway, Germany, and Egypt.
Olivia teamed up with local churches across Virginia for the annual Christmas Coat giveaway. Her sock donations were distributed to over 500 homeless men, women, and children. She went on to collect around 400 pairs of socks for “Socktober,” 868 pairs for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, and hundreds of pairs for the women’s shelter in Charlottesville.
So far, Olivia has received over 8,000 pairs of donated socks. At the height of her campaign, she was also collecting and donating new underwear, mittens, gloves, scarves, and hats.
Christmas can be an expensive time of the year. Arizona waitress Sarah Clark knows this all too well.
In late 2016, Clark was 29, heavily pregnant, and supporting her injured fiance. With just a week to go before Christmas, the couple were facing considerable financial troubles.
Clark was waitressing at Pita Jungle in Phoenix when one of her regulars arrived to pick up a takeaway. The customer, who was also pregnant at the time, had spoken to Clark on a number of occasions. That day, she quickly took her order and left the restaurant.
When Clark looked at the bill, she was astonished to find the woman had left a $900 tip. The generous tipster also left a brief note:
This is God’s money—he gave it to us so we could give it to you. God bless.
The waitress described how much the tip meant to her: “I couldn’t believe what I was looking at at first, because it’s such a high amount. $900 is a lot of money. And it took a while for it to set in. And, once it did, I cried for a little while.”
When Sheena Page watched her daughter send a letter to Santa via helium balloon, never in her wildest dreams did she expect a response.
Young Ke’ani Page had asked Santa for some pretty expensive gifts: a tablet, a pet turtle, and some light-up shoes. She decided to attach her wish list to a pink and purple balloon to guarantee that “it would get to Santa faster.” On the eve of Thanksgiving in 2016, the six-year-old cast her balloon into the skies over Lafayette, Louisiana.
After traveling 1,300 kilometers (800 mi), the balloon’s journey finally came to an end, just outside of a town called Santa Claus, Indiana. A Hoosier woman, Rachel Goffinet, discovered the balloon in her yard. In an incredible display of generosity, Goffinet bought and gift-wrapped all of Ke’ani’s presents. The super sleuth then hunted down the Page family’s address and sent the presents on their merry way.
Sheena said she had no idea that the balloon would travel as far as it did. “This is a Christmas miracle and I do believe,” added the mom of two.
But it did not end there. Former NBA star Stephon Marbury eventually got wind of the story. He used his own company—Starbury Inc.—to produce light-up sneakers that were specially designed for Ke’ani and her little sister. Ke’ani also met her favorite New Orleans Pelicans player, Anthony Davis.
On a quiet street in the British county of Gloucestershire, smoke billowed from a pensioner’s Newham home. The fire, which took place just over a week before Christmas 2018, caught the attention of the woman’s retired neighbor, Geoff Bent. Without a moment’s hesitation, Bent launched a rescue mission.
On his first attempt at entering the property, Bent was hit by a thick cloud of smoke. The quick-thinking pensioner went back to his property to regroup. He grabbed a wet tea towel, wrapped it around his face, and jumped back into the fray.
The intense fire had knocked out the power to the building. With the house lights no longer working, visibility was severely limited. Bent crawled along the floor toward the living room. He then used the glow of some battery-operated Christmas tree lights to locate his neighbor.
“They weren’t very bright but because of them I spotted a shape on the floor by the door,” Bent said.
Bent grabbed the woman and dragged her into the hallway. At the final hurdle, however, the elderly man struggled to get his neighbor out of the house.
Thankfully, moments earlier, a 17-year-old landscape gardener witnessed Bent running into the smoke-filled house. The teenager, Steven Loveridge, phoned emergency services and followed Bent into the property. The pair worked together to escort the elderly woman to safety.
The woman’s sons thanked Bent and Loveridge for their incredible bravery.