One day in fourth grade, I noticed a new girl in school. She did not have any classes with me, but I asked my friend Stacy about her; Stacy told me that the girl’s name was Sheila.
Not long after Sheila came to our school, I saw that she would often wear the same shirt two or three days in a row. To my child sensibilities, that caused surprise and concern.
I relayed this information to my mother, along with my shocked questions: Does she not have enough clothes to wear? Do you think her family doesn’t have money for more outfits?
As a child who always had enough even if I didn’t have abundance, I could barely grasp Sheila’s situation.
I told Mama that I wanted to give Sheila some of my clothes anonymously. Mama agreed that Sheila probably needed more clothing and that having some “new” clothes would help in the transition to a new school. She shared my desire to get involved. Yet, in her wisdom, Mama cautioned me that Sheila or her family might not want to receive hand-me-downs from a stranger.
I couldn’t understand the idea that “pride” might keep Sheila from getting a few more clothes, when I had some that I could share with her. So I asked Mama if she would call my science teacher, Mrs. Christian, to ask her how we could go about getting some clothing to Sheila. Sheila had Mrs. Christian as her homeroom teacher, so I saw Mrs. Christian as the natural choice to enlist in our plan.
Instead, Mama told me that I should ask Mrs. Christian myself. My teacher might give a more genuine answer in person rather than over the phone, Mama reasoned. I felt nervous about approaching Mrs. Christian, challenged about how to explain to her what Mama and I wanted to do. But I knew that if this plan were to work, I had to be willing to put aside my jitters and talk with Mrs. Christian.
Somehow, I managed to communicate our idea to my teacher, and she agreed to be part of it. We decided that I would bring the clothes to Mrs. Christian and then let her give them to Sheila.
That night at home, I chose some clothing for Sheila and put it in a brown paper grocery sack. Mama folded down the top and stapled it shut, so that it would remain safe on the school bus the next morning.
As soon as I arrived at school the next day, I brought the bag to Mrs. Christian. For some reason, it felt supremely important that nobody see me do this; I had taken very seriously our intent to keep this anonymous.
A few days later, I saw Sheila on the playground, wearing the Strawberry Shortcake knee socks that I’d put in the sack to give her. I felt so triumphant that her family had been willing to accept the clothes. I could hardly wait to tell Mama!
Sheila didn’t last long at our school; her family moved again about a month after her arrival.
I hope she took the clothes with her.
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