LIFE

Christmas mitzvah brightens year

The Balastrieri brothers of Scripps Ranch collected and distributed 100 stockings filled with gifts for homeless people this past Christmas as part of their Hanukkah celebration. The Balastrieri family celebrates both holidays.

Christmas mitzvah brightens year

A Scripps Ranch family’s unique blend of Jewish and Christmas holiday traditions has helped to make this a brighter New Year for dozens of homeless people while teaching important lessons about unity, community and charity.

The Balastrieris, who celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, do more than exchange gifts among each other. For the second year now, they have engaged their children in a mitzvah – a good deed that emphasizes good will toward men while honoring the “candle of righteousness,” the sixth light on the menorah – the sacred candelabra of Hanukkah.

Lit on the sixth night, the sixth candle (also known as Ner Shel Tzedakah) offers an opportunity to engage in tikkun olam, a tenet of Judaism that calls for the repair of a broken world. This practice typically involves assistance to the poor and sharing gifts with the less fortunate.

Adding a Christmas touch to their mitzvah, Kimberly Balastrieri and her two boys decided to stuff stockings for those currently living on the streets.

“We thought Christmas stockings would be more festive and reflect more of the holiday spirit we were striving for,” Balastrieri said.

The family searched their own holiday cache and found several surplus stockings they could fill with gifts and present to those in need. Then they purchased several more. But knowing from the previous year’s experience that “30 stockings wouldn’t be enough,” the Balastrieris decided to solicit their neighbors’ support via social media to dramatically multiply the quantity of stockings they could give away.

“We put it out there on the Scripps Ranch ‘Buy Nothing Project’ page, saying, ‘This is what our kids want to do,’ and not surprisingly the Scripps Ranch community stepped up,” she said. “We collected almost double the number stockings over a few days.”

Residents also donated toothbrushes, toothpaste, little soaps and other items. One generous resident contributed several packs of hand warmers. The Balastrieris added water and food items like trail mix packs, Trader Joe’s apple sauces and peanut butter crackers.

“We separated the stockings that had the warmers into a separate bag to be distributed to homeless that were elderly or disabled,” the mother said. “Last, we decided to grab some blankets and hats we no longer are using and distributed those as well.”

On Christmas morning, after the Balastrieris opened their presents, they loaded the stockings stuffed with all the donated items into three large boxes and drove from Scripps Ranch to downtown San Diego, in the vicinity of  St. Vincent de Paul and Father Joe’s Villages where a large number of San Diego’s homeless community reside during the winter months.

“We pulled over in several different spots,” Balastrieri said. “We would roll down the window, say ‘Merry Christmas’ and ask if they would be interested in a small gift.”

There were moments when 15 people or more approached the family’s vehicle requesting a stocking or blankets. Occasionally, Kimberly Balastrieri got out of the car to present gifts directly to those who struggled or were unable to approach her.

“It was definitely a teaching moment for my boys,” she said. “I’m a teacher, so I’m always looking for teachable moments. I asked my sons what they were thinking. I wanted them to see how others live, to appreciate what is going on in the world beyond Scripps Ranch. The expression on their faces validated for me that they understood the issue and severity of homelessness.”

Balastrieri’s nine-year-old son told her it made him sad that people lived in such conditions, and that he truly appreciates what he has. Her five-year-old son said it made him happy to give away food, water and Christmas stockings on Christmas to those who so desperately needed it.

“They both felt the goodness in their hearts when making others happy and demonstrating kindness, our mitzvah,” Balastrieri said. “We all wished we had another 100 stockings to give away.”

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