Davich: ‘It could be any of us next Christmas’
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org December 15, 2012 6:34PM
Teamsters Local 142 member Scott Failla of Hobart arrives at a Griffith, Ind. residence to deliver a Christmas basket to a former co-worker Saturday morning December 15, 2012. Failla, part of the local's stewards council, delivered several boxes of fixings for a holiday meal. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 19, 2012 2:26PM
In light of all the bad, negative and tragically sad news that we are bombarded with on a daily basis, my holiday-season gift to readers of this column space will be nothing but positive, uplifting and, hopefully, inspirational columns through Christmas, beginning with today’s column.
The 53-year-old auto master mechanic from Hobart joined a couple dozen other Teamsters-turned-elves Tuesday evening.
There, along with some of their wives and children, they unloaded pallets of donated and discounted food. There, in assembly-line fashion, they created more than 80 Christmas baskets by filling large boxes with all kinds of food items, from hams to baking goods.
There, they turned Teamsters spirit into Christmas spirit.
Failla, recording secretary for the Local 142’s Stewards Council, had a list of roughly 85 families from across Northwest Indiana and beyond that could use a boost this holiday season. The list includes 35 former Hostess bakery workers who lost their union jobs last month when the company went belly up.
The Teamsters have been doing this for a long time, without any press or public recognition, simply to remind their fellow union brothers that they’re not forgotten in dark times during the holidays. I showed up that night to watch them in action, and then to shadow Failla on Saturday morning as he delivered a few Christmas baskets/boxes to grateful recipients.
“We don’t do it for any accolades, praise, thanks, or gold stars,” he told me. “We do it for those in need ... and maybe for the selfish reason of making us feel good inside that we’ve helped out our fellow members in a time of need.”
I didn’t see any selfishness. Only selflessness as they joined to later help union members who’ve been ill, injured, laid off, or retirees living on a fixed income.
“It could be any of us next Christmas,” said Failla, who works at Webb Ford in Highland.
Throughout the year, the Teamsters raise money for this day. But finding additional cash this year for the 35 former Hostess workers put a pinch in their budget. So a new collection was held and union members pitched in an additional $600, which was matched by the union.
In all, more than $3,000 was raised and spent on discounted food items and materials from various vendors, including Ultra Foods, Bakker Produce, Pepsi, and Sara Lee.
Once the food arrived, the Teamsters and family volunteers converged to sort it, pack it, and turn empty boxes into Christmas baskets, even tossing in toiletry essentials such as toothpaste and dish soap.
“Bring those bags of sugar over here,” yelled Jason Pedroza, the steward council’s chairman who co-organized the program.
Other organizers included treasurer Matt Tchoukaleff, vice chairman Jeff Gideon, and Failla, who I shadowed on Saturday morning.
“It’s a great feeling when you see the joy on the faces of the recipients and realize this will make their Christmas,” he told me.
In Griffith, Failla dropped off two large boxes at the home of a former coworker who’s on disability with various health problems. The coworker choked up. Failla choked up. Teamsters aren’t known as being overly emotional, but such acts of generosity transcend stereotypes.
“This reminds us that the true meaning of Christmas isn’t getting a great deal on Black Friday, but providing important necessities for people in challenging circumstances,” Failla said.
Some union members don’t attend a single meeting during the year, but they always show up to help deliver the Christmas baskets. And no one ever complains about making the deliveries, some as far away as South Bend and New Buffalo, Mich.
Several leftover Christmas baskets were available on Saturday, so they were donated to local food pantries and to Haven House in Hammond, a 24-hour emergency shelter for domestic violence victims.
Two remaining baskets were given to me in hopes of finding local families in need. That wasn’t hard to do in such tough times, and I want to thank Derek Pierce of Portage for helping me locate those families and delivering the baskets personally. (Tucked inside each basket was a $100 bill, given to me from a Portage businessman who asked to remain anonymous.)
“I appreciate the awesome responsibility bestowed upon me,” said Pierce, a longtime member of Portage Avenue Baptist Church.
He echoed what I often hear from people who take part in such charitable acts. For instance, Failla, who dropped off two Christmas baskets at a quiet home in South Haven. The homeowner, however, was not there.
Failla left the boxes on the porch with a note: “Your name has been submitted to the Stewards Council of Teamsters Local 142 for our Christmas Care Package. We hope this will help your family for the holidays.”
Minutes later, he received a phone call of thanks from the union worker. I’m not sure if the worker was not home or possibly he was too embarrassed to answer the door. Giving is often easier than receiving in such situations, I’ve learned.
Two more boxes were delivered to a former Hostess worker who lost his job.
In a steady rain and gloomy day, Failla knocked on the door and waited. The door opened and the man sported a bewildered look on his face at two strangers on his porch with arms filled.
“The Teamsters just want you to know that you’re not forgotten,” he told the man, handing him the boxes.
“You didn’t have to do this,” the man replied.
“We know,” Failla said with a soft smile. “Merry Christmas.”
The man reached out to offer Failla a firm handshake — twice. Not the kind of handshake offered for obligatory greetings, but the kind that is just short of a hug.
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” the man told Failla.
Just like the handshake, it wasn’t an obligatory seasonal greeting. It came from the heart, just like the reason behind all those Christmas baskets from nameless strangers.
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