Christmas was coming, and Miguel’s teacher was talking about his school’s annual holiday food drive. “Our goal is to collect two thousand pounds of food—a whole ton—to share with others who are less fortunate,” Mrs. Stevens said. “We’ll need everyone’s help to gather that much.”
As he trudged home after school, Miguel wondered what he could take for the food drive. His father was away again, harvesting crops for others. He sent money from time to time, but often they had to get along on what his mother earned cleaning houses. Sometimes the tiny cupboards in their trailer were almost bare. But Miguel knew that other families in the trailer park had even less.
He unlocked the trailer, shrugged off his backpack, and opened the kitchen cupboard. He found rice, some beans, tomato sauce, a few cans of soup, a sack of cornmeal, and some canned corn.
When his mother returned from work, Miguel told her about the food drive. “It’s to help poor people,” he explained.
“Of course we must give something,” she said. She handed him a can of refried beans. “Take this.” The can weighed one pound twelve ounces. Miguel put it into his backpack so he wouldn’t forget to take it to school.
Gradually the pile of food in the corner of the classroom grew into a small pyramid. Every day the class divided ounces into pounds and added up the new total. As often as he could, Miguel brought something else from the cupboard in the trailer. Mamá was happy for him to help the poor with whatever they could spare.
One night Mamá came home especially tired. She put a big brown sack on the tiny kitchen table. “Is something wrong, Mamacita (Mama)?” Miguel asked.
“The Ostermans are going to Florida for the holidays,” she said, “and they won’t need me to work for three weeks. But look at what I have! Mrs. Osterman gave it to me.” She pulled a shiny oval can out of the bag.
“Ham?” Miguel licked his lips as he studied the colorful picture on the can. Then he read the label. “Ten whole pounds! Caramba (Wow)!”
“We’ll eat it on Christmas Eve,” Mamá said. “Let’s invite Tía (Aunt) Margarita to join us. She has no one to enjoy the holiday with.” Tía Margarita was not really Miguel’s aunt, but she lived in the trailer next door and often visited Miguel and his mother.
“Will we have a Christmas tree?” he asked.
“Our home is small, my son, but look!” She pointed out the window to the tall scraggly pine tree near the entrance to the trailer park, decorated with a few strings of lights. “We have a huge, beautiful Christmas tree right there.”
Miguel looked at the canned ham almost every day. A thought was growing in his mind. The night before the last day of school, he asked, “Mamá, are we poor?”
Tears welled up in her eyes, but she smiled at him. “Of course not, mi hijito (my son). We have a cozy place to live, we have food in our cupboard, I have work; and best of all, we have each other. We are rich.”
“But, Mamá, about the ham …” Miguel hesitated and swallowed hard. “I want to give it to the food drive.”
“But why, Miguel? Don’t you want it for our special dinner?”
Miguel hugged her. “Yes, Mamacita, but—but I want to do more to help the poor people.”
“Of course, of course,” she said, hugging him back. “Take it tomorrow. I am pleased that you are so generous. I will make your favorite chili tacos for Christmas Eve, instead, and we can pretend that they are full of ham. Tía Margarita will think that we are doing the right thing too. Now it is time for me to say the blessing on our supper.” Miguel bowed his head. “We are thankful for this food,” she prayed. “We are grateful that we have enough to share. …”
The next day, after his mother left to clean for the Maxwell family, Miguel slid the ham into his backpack. It thudded against his back as he jogged to school, but he didn’t mind. “Look what I have brought for the food drive,” he said to Mrs. Stevens as he placed the shiny oval can carefully on her desk.
“How generous, Miguel! Are you sure you should give this away?”
Miguel nodded. “The poor people need it,” he said.
Late that afternoon the principal reported that more than a ton of food had been collected by the students. “I’m so pleased!” he announced. “Because of you, many of your neighbors will have a happier holiday.”
Miguel felt cheerful until his mother returned from work with bad news. “Mrs. Maxwell’s grandchildren are coming to visit for the holidays,” she said. “She won’t need me for two weeks. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid, Miguel. Maybe your father will send money soon, but we can’t count on it. He does his best, but he has to live too.” Then she smiled. “But we will have our special dinner with Tía Margarita. That will make a special Christmas treat for us, sí (yes)?”
While Miguel was washing the dishes after their supper, he heard footsteps outside. Someone was running near the trailer. He opened the door and peered into the darkness.
“Mamá, come quick! There’s something by our door.”
Miguel and his mother lifted two large boxes into the kitchen. Food spilled out of them—potatoes, rice, canned fruit, soup, flour, sugar, oranges, tuna fish. At the bottom of one box, he saw a familiar shiny oval can. “How can this be?” he asked. “I gave our ham away. Now it has come back to us.”
“I don’t know, Miguel. Someone must think we need it.”
“But we don’t, Mamá. Not nearly as much as some others. You said yourself we are rich. We must find someone who really needs the ham.”
“You are right, Miguel. Let’s do that,” she replied.
They put on their coats and stepped outside into the frosty night air. Miguel cradled the ham gently against his chest like a newborn babe.