Gary James, of Valparaiso, felt propelled to honor his late wife, Michele, during the holiday season.
It was while helping his parents fill out paperwork at Porter County Aging and Community Services that he saw an opportunity to fulfill both his wish and hers.
“She always liked helping others and it is something she always wanted to do: to find a family to help or pull kids’ names off a (giving) tree to be able to do something for the kids,” he said of his wife who died on June 26, 2014.
While at PCACS’ offices, he asked PCACS Section 8 Housing Director Valerie Martinez if she could help connect him with a family in need.
“I helped identify families who would need assistance during the holidays,” Martinez said. “One family had lost its only vehicle and the other woman had surgery and was out of work for some time.”
“Valerie gave me the names and ages of the kids and told me I could pick a family,” James said. “I told her, ‘I will take them both.’”
The two women had a total of seven children between them and James started shopping right away, picking out toys for the youngest kids, and purchasing gifts cards for the older children based on their wish lists, as well as for the women.
James spent a total of $1,000 on the holiday gifts.
“It’s money I would have spent on my kids, nieces and nephews that I used for those who need it. My kids totally thought it was great. They get everything they need,” he said. “I wanted to give somebody a decent Christmas since I knew I wasn’t going to have a great Christmas since my wife wasn’t there.”
“It did help me some, too. It was something she would have wanted me to do. We had talked about doing it (last) year … it didn’t work out, so I wanted to make sure to do it.”
James had the opportunity to meet one woman when he dropped off the gifts at her apartment.
“After a car accident, she didn’t have transportation so I drove the gifts to her house,” he said. “From the other family, one of the kids wrote a card to thank me.”
He is also helping both families through his employer, BP, where he works in operations. Through BP’s Easy Match Program, the families will receive an additional $1,000 for coats and other needs.
“The program will match what employees are doing out in the community,” he said
James hopes to make assisting families in need a tradition during future holiday seasons.
“I want (PCACS staff) to give me a call every year,” he said. “If anyone needs anything, I don’t mind helping.”
PCACS’ mission is to extend a helping hand to seniors, those with disabilities and low-income residents by providing services to improve their quality of life, including transportation, nutrition programs, energy assistance and activity centers.
For more information, visit www.portercountyacs.org.