Gifts come through for autistic widow

Last-minute donations of rent money, clothes and gift cards flipped Christmas tidings from sad to glad for an autistic young widow.

"It's just been amazing. She was homeless and bouncing around. She's stable now and because of that she's able to start working on some other issues," said Ronda Janisch of Medford's Rogue Retreat, an organization that provides transitional housing for the homeless.

Janisch nominated the 27-year-old mentally and emotionally challenged woman for the Mail Tribune's Light One Candle series. Janisch was hoping readers would respond with a few gifts and some much-needed rent money for the young woman.

But unlike the other 19 individuals and families featured in the series, the young widow's plight did not elicit a single response.

"She knew we were doing the article," said Janisch. "And none of us could explain to her why nothing was coming in."

Homeless for several years and suffering from autism and learning disabilities that prevent her from holding a job and taking proper care of herself, the woman stayed with friends or lived out of a car or a motel, Janisch said.

On Valentine's Day, the woman gave birth to a baby girl who was placed in foster care. She married her fiancé, but he died from cancer not long after they got married. She was about to lose her apartment at Rogue Retreat because of delays in her Social Security eligibility hearing.

The young woman was facing being homeless again.

When the Light One Candle series wrap-up on Christmas Day noted the young widow was the only one who hadn't received anything, there was a flurry of activity on the Mail Tribune forums.

"Come on people it's not too late," urged SpitFirePOZ, who added she would donate a gift card even though she lives on a fixed income.

"If we all pitch in just a few bucks each it could really help. IT IS NOT TOO LATE. Let's do this thing everyone. Merry Christmas to all."

Janisch's phone started ringing right away, she said.

"One family met me at her apartment (Tuesday) with some gifts," said Janisch.

That family wanted to be sure the young woman had something to open on Christmas Day. Another call came from a woman who lives on disability. She'd been given a couple of gift cards for Christmas and wanted to give one away, Janisch said.

The 11th-hour giving spree has netted Janisch's client several promises of checks — including one for $500 and one for $200. In addition to the cash, the young woman has received gift cards, games and movies.

The never-too-late outpouring came as a surprise to Janisch. But her client was sure the community would rally.

"She kept saying, 'I knew it! I knew it!,'" said Janisch. "She was so happy. She's childlike, and her joy was so visible."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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