It was Christmas Eve, 2012. Joe pulled into a truck stop in Council Bluffs, IA. It was cold, and as Joe scanned the parking lot, he spotted a vehicle with a family inside, trying to stay warm.
It didn’t take long for Joe to realize the family had no place to stay, no food to eat and the children had no Christmas presents. He approached the vehicle and struck up a conversation. He took the family inside the diner and bought them a meal. He walked next door to the motel and bought them a room for the night and he purchased a few toys from inside the truck stop and gave them to the children. No big deal to Joe.
To the family, Joe was a Christmas angel, but little did they know, he enjoyed helping people. It all started in the 1990’s when he was in the military and his unit began distributing toys to children at Christmas. They also didn’t know that Joe was a TxDOT maintenance technician there on vacation.
Joe still serves with the maintenance office in Shelby County. And yearly, he continues his acts of kindness. This year, he and his family donated more than 100 new toys to a local organization who distributes them to children. Joe said he and his colleagues placed more than 1,000 toys in drop boxes in East Texas. He hopes to double that number next year.
When I asked him if it was a sacrifice for him and his family to purchase the toys, he said “The toy doesn’t have to break the bank. A $2 toy to a child is better than no toy at all at Christmas.” That’s the Christmas spirit. The true spirit of kindness that lasts year-round.
You have seen Joe and other TxDOT employees like him working alongside the road on a hot August day or in a freezing winter storm. You have probably seen them working to clear the roads after a tornado, a flood or on a hurricane response team. TxDOT men and women just like Joe show kindness outside the scope of their jobs on any given day. They have been known to help stranded motorists, save a life or two from a flood ravaged roadway, and they don’t hesitate to jump into action when they come upon a crash. No big thing to any of them. Normal people with lives of their own, yet they are heroes who go above and beyond.
It doesn’t take much for any of us to help someone with a single act of kindness. It’s a worthy effort when you see spirits lifted and smiles spread across the faces of those who have had nothing to smile about. I hope this holiday season, we will pay it forward when it comes to kindness and resolve to keep the spirit of giving through the new year.
Next time you drive through a work zone, think about Joe and his Christmas spirit. My hope is that we can harness it. If we do, there will likely never be another homeless family in a truck stop parking lot on Christmas Eve or another child without a Christmas toy.
Rhonda Oaks is a Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Transportation and resides in Lufkin.
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