FORT LORAMIE — “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” wrote Louisa May Alcott.
It’s one of the most famous first lines in American literature, opening her beloved “Little Women,” whose early chapters tell of a Civil War-era family who don’t buy gifts for each other, but give away what they have, including their holiday breakfast, to help people worse off than they.
Such generosity is not just the stuff of fiction.
The children of Steve and Linda Berger in Fort Loramie use the money they earn to purchase Toys for Tots instead of buying gifts for each other. Their parents give them gifts, but, Linda said, she and her husband urge the kids not to reciprocate.
“A hug is plenty at Christmas,” she said.
Instead, they give Christmas to strangers.
Brandon, 23, Brett, 22, Brice, 19, Makayla, 17, and Marcus, 15, have never given gifts to each other. But a few years ago, when Brice was an officer in the Versailles High School FFA, the whole family began to respond to the FFA drive to support Toys for Tots.
They pick an evening when they can get together, and they troop to the Dollar General in Fort Loramie.
“It’s close, and they have (Toys for Tots donations) bins there,” Brice said. Each of the seven family members takes a shopping cart and then they have a good time filling every cart to overflowing for the next 45 minutes.
“This is just such a cool thing to do at Christmas together,” Linda said.
Each of the children has a job and each uses his own money to buy the toys, which impresses Desiree Wurst, Dollar General store manager.
“I see them using their own money. All you hear about is bad kids. What about the good ones who don’t get recognized?” she said.
Brandon works for an accounting firm. Brett and Brice, who is in college, work in the family business, the Fort Loramie Hardware store. Makayla works after school in a flower shop in Versailles.
“We try to get something for everybody,” added Marcus, who doesn’t have a regular job, but saves odd job payments and birthday money for the shopping trip.
“We always go in there with a limit (to spend) and we always exceed it,” Linda laughed. Their purchases total around $500. It’s not the amount of money but the toys themselves that “tell” the shoppers when they have enough.
“You go and you keep finding presents until you know you have what you need,” Brice said.
Brett’s girlfriend, Tabitha Wagner, of Coldwater, joined the fun this year. She and Makayla made sure girls’ toys were chosen, as well as toys for boys. The shoppers have a good time because at heart, they are kids, let loose in a toy store.
“You actually get to get toys,” Brett said.
“They put a big dent (in our supply),” said Wurst. “We like that.”
When the shopping trip is over, everyone piles into the family van to drive around and look at Christmas lights.
The seven carts full of toys more than fill the bin at the front of the Dollar General store. This year, the Bergers also delivered playthings to the Toys for Tots collection point in Shelby County.
“There were thousands of toys for the FFA at school,” Marcus said. Those were distributed in Darke County. “So we gave some to Shelby County,” he added.
All of them were reluctant to talk about their unselfishness. They think of themselves as people at the beginning of long chain of altruism, which inclueds volunteers who empty the bins, more who sort the donations, others who package them for distribution and those who make sure they’re delivered to the right families.
“There are so many people who don’t get credit,” Linda said. “(This is) just something we do for fun. We all feel pretty good at the end.”
And they think joyfully about those who will receive their gifts.
“You could have just made this the best Christmas ever. You could have got the toy that puts a smile on that kid’s face and he’ll remember this Christmas for the rest of his life,” Brett said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.