Cumberland Times-News


December 22, 2012

Before Toys for Happiness, there was ... .

Noted columnist and broadcaster, Paul Harvey, shared many inspiring stories by relating little known facts behind the headlines.

Most local residents are familiar with the efforts of the Toys for Happiness campaign which has served thousands of local children for more than 30 years.

But very few folks are aware of a series of events that frame the historical context of this important community service program.

The story began on a cold, blustery day two weeks before Christmas in 1979. A local home-based Head Start teacher, Ms. Janet, was concluding her weekly lesson for Maryanne’s 3 preschool children.

As she prepared to depart, Ms Janet inquired “Do you have your shopping done yet, Maryanne?”

Maryanne, a small, quiet unassuming woman, paused and then replied softly, ”I didn’t shop for Christmas this year. We gave our list to the Lord.”

Ms. Janet listened intently as Maryanne explained: “Well, the children understand that we don’t have much money for Christmas, but I asked each of them to share three Christmas wishes. I wrote them down, and we prayed that if it was God’s will, the gifts would be provided and after we prayed, we placed the list in our Bible.”

Ms. Janet was overcome with emotion as she pondered Maryanne’s response. Janet realized that if she had not prompted the question about shopping, Maryanne would never have revealed such a private prayer request.

When Janet returned to the Head Start Center, she related the incident to her colleagues.

The image of a mom surrounded by three small children praying over a Christmas wish list tucked quietly into the family Bible, brought tears to everyone’s eyes. But staff members realized that Maryanne’s situation was not unique.

Many local families were facing a sparse holiday due to limited financial resources. Phone calls and requests were promptly issued to various local family service agencies.

Under the direction of Mrs. Grace Fleming, the local Red Cross responded to the call for assistance. Mrs. Fleming organized a toy drive by contacting local merchants. Within days, the response was so great that more than 50 other Head Start children were provided with toys and gifts.

Upon learning of a mother’s quiet, humble act of faith, the congregation of a local church offered a monetary donation specifically for Maryanne’s family.

And so, the day before Christmas, Ms. Janet made a special visit to Maryanne’s home. “Get that list out of your Bible” Janet insisted. “We’re going shopping!”

Grace Fleming continued to coordinate the Red Cross toy drive until the Toys for Happiness project assumed responsibility for this annual campaign.

Special recognition is extended to: Ms. Janet (Janet Knetzer) for bringing awareness to an unmet need; to Mrs. Grace Fleming for initiating a program to meet that need; and to Toys for Happiness volunteers for continuing this important community service.

“Maryanne,”thank you for reminding us that, indeed, Christmas is a season of genuine faith and abiding hope.

And now …you, too, know … “the rest of the story.”

Victoria Thornton


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