Editor’s note: This column was written in January 2023

Last week, I pulled into the driveway of a complete stranger’s house, got out of my van and pulled out a big, black trash bag full of wrapped presents for the child that lived at the house. The bag was simply labeled “female/age nine.”

As I approached the door, it was pulled open before I knocked by a woman who stood just inside with a hesitant look on her face. I introduced myself as the executive director of People Plus and a Brunswick Rotarian and explained that I have a delivery for her daughter in fourth grade. She cautiously said that yes, she has a daughter, but she was not expecting a package. I said these holiday gifts were donated through the Rotary Club of Brunswick and were meant to be a surprise for the families. Her eyes widened and became watery as understanding dawned and she stepped out to help me with the heavy bag. “My goodness!” she exclaimed, still not believing what was happening. “Is this bag for all the kids?”

With a grin, I responded that no, that bag full of presents was JUST for her 9-year-old daughter, and gesturing toward my van, I said that actually I had three more bags for her three other children. She gasped as the impact of what I said registered. “You brought this many gifts for all of my kids?” she asked incredulously. And I nodded yes, because by then, I too, was swallowing back tears, as she started full-on crying. “Let me help you,” she said, and called to her husband, who by that time had emerged from the house as well.

She turned and said excitedly, “Joe, they’ve brought presents for all the kids — shut the door so they don’t see!” And they both followed me out to my van, where we sorted through about 10 other bags to find the three marked with the appropriate tags for their children ages four, 11 and 13.

“What’s in the bags?” asked Joe, so I explained they were age-appropriate gifts from the Rotary Club of Brunswick. They had been purchased, sorted, labeled, and wrapped by Rotarian volunteers and were being delivered by members of the Brunswick Area Teen Center along with Rotarians who came together to work on this project for families in need this holiday season. I couldn’t see her husband very well due to the fading light, but as he coughed a bit and swallowed hard, I knew he was also getting choked up. “Thanks,” he said, and honestly, I wasn’t surprised by the emotion. A total stranger had just shown up completely out of the blue — with enough presents for their whole family.


Delivering those donated gifts was a total labor of love for me and the other volunteers as we knew the gifts would completely change the holiday celebration for not just this family, but a hundred others in the Brunswick and MSAD 75 school districts.

For over a decade, the Rotary Club of Brunswick has worked with the school departments to provide gifts for children in the McKinney-Vento program. McKinney-Vento is the umbrella program that officially provides support for the children and families who are considered homeless. And the word “homeless” can mean a lot of different things. They might be staying in a hotel while they’re waiting for a new apartment, or they are living in cars, tents, hotels or worse. In a good situation, the kids might be living with grandparents or in a foster situation. There’s any number of circumstances that would cause a child to be either permanently or temporarily homeless and the school departments work pretty hard to ensure those kids are cared for and get to school.

So, the Rotary Club in Brunswick helps out by providing the holidays gifts — ensuring that every child registered in the program gets presents, necessities, and a gift card for essentials.

And it’s through these efforts of gathering donations and gifts all year long, purchasing rolls of wrapping paper for hundreds of presents, days spent wrapping and then ultimately delivering gifts and receiving hundreds of smiles and tears that makes it all worthwhile for the volunteers with Brunswick Rotary.

Ashley Richards, a Brunswick Rotarian, delivered at least 15 bags this season and spoke about his experience during lunch at the People Plus Center. He was a bit overcome when I asked him to describe how his day of delivering toys had gone and, in fact, Ash got a little welled up. He paused and then said to the lunch crowd that it was for sure the best Christmas experience he’d ever had and that he was feeling a bit like Santa Claus when he showed up with bags of gifts for the kids. He couldn’t believe at every house the parents were surprised, overwhelmed, and overcome with emotion. “It was hard not to cry as well,” he said. “And I’ll definitely be back to help with this project again.”

I think that’s the way all the Rotarians feel, and all the members of the Teen Center advisory committee who pitched in to help as well. Because there’s really nothing like the giving season that makes it all worthwhile. So, thanks to the Brunswick Rotary Club for coordinating this amazing project and thanks to the Brunswick School Department and SAD 75 for partnering with us to ensure these kids have an amazing holiday.

I heard a Rotarian say last week when they were picking up the bags, that even just one gift this Christmas for a child who expected nothing can change their lives. And that’s certainly what these Rotarians have done. So, as I think about that little girl, age nine, as well as all the thousands of children that Rotary has helped, I’m so honored to be a part of this amazing community that comes together to help children, help older adults and help anyone else who needs it!

Stacy Frizzle-Edgerton is executive director of People Plus, a community center for seniors and teens based in Brunswick.

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