A Simple Life-Changing Experience


A few days ago I had what can only be described as a life changing experience. This simple event reframed the way I look at other people and taught me how to love something that I have hated for a long time – Christmas.

Oddly enough – it started with a death in the family.

My youngest brother Zac was found in his apartment on Christmas eve 2010. He died the day before he was set to fly home for the holidays. This event obviously changed the way we’d look at Christmas for the rest of our lives.

As Christmas 2011 approached my Mom thought it may be a good idea to do something for someone else to ease the uncomfortable feeling that was creeping in.

I told her about a story I’d read where a mystery woman was anonymously paying off Lay a way for people at her local Kmart. We quickly decided that I would pitch in $500 and she would head to her local Wal-Mart to pay off lay a way bills and do it all in the name of Zac Darras, as a way to acknowledge and remember his life.

We did it – and it felt amazing.

That simple act of charity gave me the best feeling I’d had all year. It helped to ease the pain that we now associated with Christmas Eve. It changed the meaning of Christmas from “getting” to “giving”.

Instead of being angry that we didn’t get the exact presents we wanted or that we didn’t get to see Zac again this year we focused on what we did get to do – and that was give a better Christmas to several struggling families.

In 2012 we did it again.

This time with some advance notice we created a Facebook group and several people joined in to cheer us on as it happened. The support and sharing of this little event made it feel even better – and more people were able to get involved by leaving comments and encouragements.

This year (2013) we decided to take it up a notch and accept donations and see if anyone would be interested in contributing. I setup a quick site at GoFundMe and we thought we had 2 weeks to raise donations before Lay a way ended for the year.

We were wrong.

We contacted the store on Dec.12th to confirm that Dec 21st was the last day of Lay a way. We were informed that this year it was ending early… the next day, Dec. 13th.

I actually called off the Donation drive thinking it was too short of notice and no one would care. Mom demanded that we do it (good on her) because honestly at the time she was in need of some good vibes.

So we decided to give it a shot.

Layaway Santa 2013

I made the site live with a goal of $500. I thought we might be able to raise $100 in the short time frame. I thought our impromptu effort might look unorganized and annoying to the people in our social networks. I wanted it to be more planned and thought out. But there was no time, so with a hesitant click, I launched the campaign on Facebook.

10 hours later we had raised $630.

  • In one afternoon we raised more than our goal
  • The next day donations continued to come in
  • We hit $830 before finally shutting it down

As the event was about to begin, people began leaving more anonymous donations at the store in person. Another $500+. It was shocking. I got chills.

We helped approximately 100 families in Oklahoma pay for their Christmas presents.

  • Some of them hardly reacted
  • some threw their hands up and screamed out “Thank You Lord!”
  • One woman sat next to my mom (who was there watching) and cried “can you believe  someone would do this?”

This event has become the best day of the year for me. It gives me a new way to cope with what could otherwise be a pretty crappy time. Oh — and it helps a ton of families give their kids toys for Christmas.

Let’s keep it going.

Right now all I can think to do it “KEEP GOING”. And I plan to. We’re planning next year to be our biggest yet.

Thank you to everyone who participated for making this simple, yet life-changing event happen.

I hope to see you all next year.

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  • Zingali

    My timing was crummy this year. More planning will definitely bring in more donations. I’ve been telling several of my friends about this endeavor and they get chills from it. I want to be more involved, somehow. This concept y’all came up with is inspirational on so many levels. It gives me hope that maybe *I* can be bold and do something like this. Thank you for being you, Malan.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Excellent – we’re working on a way that we can include more people and do it as a team next year. Stay tuned 😉 #2014

      • dave

        Now that you got a tradition started for Christmas time, maybe you can consider incorporate it into more holidays or just randomly. The more you give, the more you get. I’m still trying to truly experience that for myself. All the best.

        • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

          Hey Dave – when you do it yourself you’ll see how much work it is. We’re trying to streamline the process – until then we’ll continue focusing on once per year.

  • Michael

    doing something similar for a couple of years now .. instead of “gifting each other” we select names form the local Salvation Army Angel Tree initiative … thanks to my wife we have by now pretty much our whole church congregation involved as well .. so we have enough people now to basically ” buy the whole tree ” ..Always gets me every year the amount of elderly people asking for basic stuff like a toaster or heated blanket… one would think we as a society can do better than that…

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Great idea Michael – I bet that feels fantastic. Keep it up – because yeah, a lot of us forget that simple things like a $25 toaster are out of the question for some people, doesn’t take much to make an impact. Stay in touch