Sitting in our Reading Center today we watched volunteer after volunteer come in from the freezing cold to read with our children. They walked in with heavy down coats and ski parkas, snow boots lined with fur, big Russian hats, wooly scarves, and mittens fit for the snowball fight of the century. They shiver and clasp their hands together, keeping their coats on as long as they can until they breathe in the warmth inside. We see their eyes peering from above the scarves wrapped up to their noses and we are in awe at their commitment and loyalty. It would be so easy for any - or all - of them to have called and cancelled due to the weather...the snow...the ice. It's a winter like no other.
Yet nobody cancelled.
Volunteer sign-in is complete.
The joy our volunteers know awaits them is motivation to keep their promise to be here. Despite the meteorologist's urging, "Severe weather warning, stay home if you can," they know that once they sit on the floor to read with the children, there's no memory of the arctic cold. We see it in their smiles as they read with the kids. They forget about heavy snow falling, more black ice to worry about, and any weather-related trouble they may encounter on their way home. It could be July by the look on their faces now.
An hour later, each child has received a new pair of pajamas and a new book, and shared precious one-on-one bonding. A big "Thank You" is cheered in unison by the children for the volunteers in the room. Smiles grow from ear to ear...on the adults. Laughter and hugs are the final pay-off, the gestures that mean the world to our volunteers, these women and men who have come out in this brutally cold winter to warm the hearts of these special little ones, and warming their own in the process.
The reading party is over and it's snowing again. The temperatures are below zero with the wind-chill factor and everyone is bundling up. Time to face reality. It's not July, it's February, and one of the coldest Februarys on record in New York. The volunteers help the children into their purple and pink coats and their hats with animal faces on them. They clip the mittens to their sleeves and tie their scarves around them twice for extra warmth, and then wave as the kids head out to the waiting bus. The volunteers are ready to leave too.
"Thank you so much for coming out in this weather," we told them gratefully.
"See you tomorrow" some of them called back.
And we know they won't cancel.