Celebrating the Holidays with a Box of Cheer

Last December, Terri Arthur was in her garage when her son called her from inside the house.

“There’s a big box on the patio,” he told her. 

Despite the bustling holiday season with packages coming and going from the back of the mailman’s truck, Terri couldn’t remember ordering anything. Especially a large gift-wrapped box. With a bit of hesitation and anticipation, Terri trudged out to the patio to retrieve the package. 

“I got it inside and opened it up,” Terri recalls. “Then I cried like a baby.”

The package was one of hundreds of Cheer Boxes distributed to grieving families each holiday by EveryStep Grief & Loss Services’ Amanda the Panda program.

“The holidays are a joyous time of year, spent with family and festive celebrations,” Ashley Mori, director of EveryStep Grief & Loss Services’ Amanda the Panda program, said. “But it can be a difficult season for those who have recently lost a loved one." Cheer Boxes are our way of reminding families that they have our support and care during this season.”

Filled with 12 individually wrapped gifts – including a blanket, candle and coloring book – a Cheer Box is intended to bring a little extra joy to a grieving family. Each gift in the box is adorned with a message describing the item and how it can provide comfort and remembrance during the holidays.

Terri, along with sons Caleb, 11, and Brendan, 13, received a Cheer Box after seeking grief support following the death of their husband and father, Robert.

The family, who lived in Omaha when Robert died of a massive heart attack in July 2015, relocated to the Des Moines area in January 2016. Shortly after arriving, Terri and the boys learned of EveryStep Grief & Loss Services’ Amanda the Panda program. 

Since then, the family has attended grief support groups and the Amanda the Panda Grief & Loss Camp.

“Amanda the Panda helped a lot,” Terri says. “This past summer, with three years without Robert, our birthday…it was tough. I was still able to reach out to Amanda the Panda and they emailed me about the fall session. And even when we’re not in session, they’re still there for me.”

Despite Terri’s awareness of Amanda the Panda’s programs and resources, it came as a welcomed and emotional surprise to see the Cheer Box sitting on her patio last Christmas.

“It was so touching,” Terri recalls. “Christmas isn’t about the gifts, but as a widow it was nice to have something. It’s just the three of us. To know someone else took the time to think of us… it meant the world to me.” 

Terri, Caleb, and Brendan waited until Christmas morning to open each of the individually wrapped gifts and read the attached stickers.

“I cried all over again,” she says, remembering the thoughtfulness of the candy, coloring book, journal, memory book and other gifts.

This year, Terri has decided to give back to the program that has helped her family through their grief. She’s spent several days at EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda Family Grief Center in West Des Moines, wrapping Cheer Box gift for other grieving families. 

“I know what it did for me when I was struggling,” she says. “So I want to give that joy to another person or family.”

While wrapping gifts this week, Terri reflected on the impact such a small gesture or a few hours of volunteering could have on others.

“Something as simple as that box could make or break someone during the holidays,” she says. “Maybe that box could literally save a life.”

This year’s Cheer Boxes are currently being prepared and will be delivered in late November and early December.

EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda program is always accepting Cheer Box donations and volunteers to wrap and deliver packages. For a full list of needed donations or to schedule a time to wrap or deliver boxes visit www.everystep.org/services/grief-loss.