Rasul Bey and his mom have been through it lately.
A school bus monitor, Latyia Johnson hasn’t worked since Philadelphia public schools closed last spring. Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Rasul is high functioning but struggles with remote learning.
Last month, Rasul and his mother were diagnosed with COVID-19. Like a lot of Americans who have been hit hard during the pandemic, theirs will be a lean Christmas — not that you would know it from all the toys stashed inside their Oxford Circle rowhouse.
After getting an email announcing a toy drive at the Philadelphia Charter School for Arts & Sciences at H.R. Edmunds, Rasul and his mom decided to collect gifts to help. The second grader used money from his savings, got funds from friends and relatives, and recently received a $100 anonymous donation that he used to pick up toys from stores such as Five Below and the Dollar Store to support his school toy drive.
“I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what’s it like not to have,” said Johnson, whose unemployment checks are scheduled to run out this month. “I don’t have much to give nobody, but we can start something to give to others.”
What makes what little Rasul is doing so precious is the fact that he had been saving to buy himself a pricey Nintendo Switch gaming system — something his mother can ill afford because she’s been out of work for so long.
You’d think that given all he has been through recently, Rasul would be more focused on getting rather than giving. Not this youngster. With his mother’s assistance, Rasul has collected about 150 toys, which he plans to drop off at his school Tuesday.
I learned about his mini toy drive from South Philly’s Anton Moore of Unity in the Community, who is organizing his 13th annual holiday food and gift drive. “Just imagine if every neighbor were to help another,” he said.
He’s got a point.
As we enter that long dark winter that President-elect Joe Biden warned of, we should be thinking about what we can do for someone else. I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, Pennsylvania broke its one-day record for coronavirus cases, logging in more than 11,000 new infections.
We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve lost jobs. Many of us are on the verge of losing homes. We’ve been forced to give up gathering for the holidays. On top of that, a whole lot of us are hungry. Roughly 26 million Americans don’t have enough to eat. Many have always had jobs and managed to feed their families, but now, through no fault of their own, they can’t.
“In 2018, the number of people who were food insecure was 635,240,” Loree D. Jones, chief executive of local food bank Philabundance, said of the region’s numbers. “In 2020 ,that jumped up to 892,150. The numbers are mind-boggling.”
Meanwhile, Congress still hasn’t passed another much-needed economic stimulus package.
During this difficult time, I’m inspired by those such as Rasul and his mother who manage to give despite having so little of their own. Their generosity makes me ask myself what more can I do? I hope it inspires you, as well, to make a donation to an organization such as Philabundance or buy extra toys to give to needy children. At least think about it. Do what you can.
As Moore pointed out, if each of us does a little something to alleviate the need around us, it can add up to a lot. As for Rasul, he keeps asking his mom about that Nintendo Switch for Christmas. She gently reminds him that it’s not likely that Santa will leave him one under the tree this year.
But the joy and feeling of accomplishment that little Rasul will get Tuesday as he drops off the toys for his schoolmates will, in the long run, be much more valuable.