Typically, by Christmas Eve, Heather Dietz-Smith likes to have all of her shopping done, not only for her family but also for any families she is trying to help give a hand.
That was more-or-less the plan this year, until a family came into Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where Dietz-Smith, a Forsyth County resident, is a social worker, and one of the kids mentioned to a co-worker that the family wasn’t planning to have gifts this year due to medical costs for a younger sibling.
“In the past, I’ve helped a lot of families and I had promised my family, ‘Alright guys, I’ll take it easy this year,’ because it always gets pretty stressful and crazy,” Dietz-Smith said, “but as soon as I met with them, my heart was just broken, and the mom was crying. She was like, ‘I feel so bad that there won’t be anything under the tree, and it’s breaking my heart but I don’t have anything extra this year.’"
Dietz-Smith wanted to help, but she had logistical concerns; she had also heard from 10 other families, meaning a total of about 20 kids, in the week leading up to Christmas.
“Unfortunately, Christmas assistance closes typically around August, so a lot of females who come on hard times in like October or November, they don’t know that Christmas assistance closes so much earlier than Christmas,” she said.
After talking with coworkers, she got in contact with the other families and posted online looking for help from the Forsyth County community.
By the time she made it home from Atlanta, she said she was bombarded with those wanting to donate toys, money, wrapping paper and time.
Adding to the complication, Dietz-Smith didn’t get off work until around 3 p.m. on a day where many stores close early. To make things even tougher, the families were spread out through Cumming, Atlanta and Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties.
“I started realizing, even if I stay up all night, I don’t know if I can physically get to all these places,” she said.
Working with the families and volunteers, Dietz-Smith was eventually able to work out the details but was working into the wee hours of Christmas morning.
“I was still in contact with one family that was living in a motel that was a really rough situation because I didn’t get there until like 4 in the morning,” Dietz-Smith said.
By 4:45 a.m., Dietz-Smith said she had received pictures from the dad of the kid’s opening gifts.
In total, Dietz-Smith was able to raise about $1,600 in donations from the community, which she said blew her away and actually got flagged by one of the sites used for donations.
“When it comes down to it, everyone wants to help people. Everybody has that same desire to make Christmas good for everybody, so it was such an incredible night,” she said. “I was up all night, and still had to come home and wrap my kids’ gifts, but it was such a beautiful thing.”