Patricia Shavers, a 7-Eleven cashier, says it started Monday morning when a Marine walked into the store and handed her money for no reason.
He gave me his card and said, If you need anything, call me. I was shocked, said Shavers. After that, they just keep coming, strangers giving me money. I didnt know what to say. It got me to crying after a while.
The Marines $100 gift is one of many acts of kindness linked to the Observers ongoing series about families seeking help from the Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau.
Starting Monday, the bureau will begin distributing Christmas toys for nearly 14,000 low-income kids, funded in part by the Observers Empty Stocking Fund.
Shavers was profiled Dec. 9, because shes single and struggling to raise her nieces twin sons, 4-year-old Fredrick and Freddie. Other families featured in the series have reported sacks of toys appearing on their doorsteps, money showing up in their mail box, stores hosting their children for no-cost shopping sprees and parties thrown in their honor by strangers.
In Shavers case, the community response even included an offer by professional Santa Doug Eberhart to show up at her home Monday night with new bikes. Its the second year Eberhart, 49, has reached out to a family featured in the Observers annual series of stories.
These boys are 4 years old, the age where its all still magical for them, said Eberhart, who is himself a twin. I just want to give them an opportunity to believe in miracles.
Andrea Smith, featured in a Nov. 28 article, cried a little, too, after her disabled daughters Christmas wish for a fishing pole was granted two weeks early by Bass Pro Shops.
Mother and daughter were given the run of the Concord store before it opened on Dec. 1, and were presented with matching fishing poles and all the supplies they needed. Then, 10-year-old Danazia spent time with the stores Santa and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
When all a little girl wants to do is go fishing, well, thats our business, said store manager Eric Winter. It was just the right thing to do.
Andrea Smith said the stores kindness took on more significance last week, when a change in Danazias medication produced serious side effects. The girl now faces the possibility of spending the holidays in a hospital, her mother said.
She was so happy that day, said Smith. Ill never forget her walking through the store, holding Rudolphs hand. She wanted to bring him home. She couldnt stop talking about it.
Had Bass Pro Shops not stepped up, at least a dozen other callers to the Observer offered fishing poles for Danazia.
Much the same happened in response to a Nov. 24 story about an 11-year-old boy who had three golf clubs and wanted a chipping wedge for Christmas. Readers not only offered to donate the club, but one man arranged to get the boy an entire set of clubs with balls, tees and gloves.
Reaction was even stronger to a Dec. 1 story about a disabled former Marine, Eric Steele, and his wifes Christmas wish for his health to improve. She came to the Christmas Bureau to get toys for their 3-year-old son.
Readers called and emailed, wanting to help both the boy and his parents. One couple, Cecil and Debbie Thomas, brought toys to the Observer in hopes theyd be delivered to the Steele family. Marine Corps League Detachment 750 also invited Steele and his wife to be guests at its annual Christmas Party this week, with a promise of surprises for the family.
We have a son that is a former Marine, that was honorably discharged the same year (as Steele) and we can somewhat relate to the issues Eric is struggling with, said Cecil Thomas. I do not believe the general public realizes the effect war has on the young men and women defending our country...I know we did not until our son served.
Among the more unusual responses to the series is an offer of help from a group of inmates at Alexander Correctional Institute in Taylorsville.
The men, all Native Americans, were moved by a Nov. 25 story about an abused 3-year-old girl named Rain, who had been rescued by a disabled Charlotte woman.
They collected $330 to donate to the Empty Stocking Fund in her name, which is all the more remarkable when taking into account they earn only $1 a day for inmate labor.
Reading about what Rain had gone through broke our hearts, said inmate Mike Valdez, 33, referring to cigarette burns and sexual abuse the child suffered.
Ive got gang members, supremacists and all kinds of bad people, and were talking puppy dog tears. Many of them came from abusive homes, so they understood what its like.
Salvation Army officials credit all this kindness to a basic human need to connect with others that is magnified by memories associated with the holidays. Its also a time when adults seem to know instinctively how they can make a difference in a childs life, even with the smallest of acts.
In all, 3,500 volunteers will help make the agencys Christmas Bureau a success this year, giving time or expertise. Among them are people like Jeannette Martin, a Bank of America employee who has volunteered for the past eight years.
She was among 25 bank employees who showed up Thursday night at the bureau to fill in for another group that cancelled. The volunteers spent three hours sorting toys, among other things.
Martin said they did it fully understanding the great needs facing families this time of year, but also because they remember how important Christmas is to kids.
She still cries remembering a moment on the final day of last years Christmas Bureau, when a mother got emotional after learning she had come up a lucky winner in the programs popular bicycle lottery.
She started crying and hugged us, Martin recalled. I think it was the joy of knowing her child was going to get something on her Christmas list.
I think we can all relate to being a child and having a wish list.
Back when things were still magical, and miracles could still come true.