Gerry Sea, with Victim Services at Community Works, holds just a few of the hundreds of gifts, household supplies, gift cards and cash donations given to social service agencies by local residents in response to the Mail Tribune’s annual Light One Candle series. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

The Greatest Gifts

Tough economic times didn't stop local Good Samaritans who gave generously to the Mail Tribune's Light One Candle candidates, agency leaders said.

"The generosity of our community shines," said Gerry Sea, with Victim Services at Community Works.

"It has been amazing to see the community support families who have experienced abuse. It helps families to heal knowing the community cares," Sea said.

Many community members reaching out to help those featured in the holiday giving series said it was because someone in the past had helped them when they needed it, she said.

Thanks to donors, Shirley and her children have a beautiful Christmas tree fully decorated with lights, decorations to cherish for years to come, and many wonderful gifts to enjoy, Sea said.

Shirley was so surprised to see the kind of support the community offered her and her children. Her daughter Amy will smile and dance with delight when she opens her gifts today, which included some awesome cookbooks, cooking tools and supplies, she told Community Works staffers.

Shirley also will be surprised when she opens her own gifts: a digital camera with a gift card for processing pictures, a luxurious blanket and self-care gifts, Sea said.

Pam and her children are likely snacking on popcorn and soda today as they enjoy movies on their new DVD player. Pam's son, Mike, received building toys and Hot Wheels among his gifts. Her daughter April has the soft and snuggly blanket she wished for, which her mom planned to put on her bed when she fell asleep on Christmas Eve.

Mom also got to go pick out some presents, thanks to a generous donor, and she will be writing in her journal with lovely pens and will be warm in her new scarf and gloves. When Pam received the gifts, she said, "I can hardly believe people would help us — we are so blessed, please thank everyone who helped us."

Cindy, who thought her family would not have Christmas this year, cried when she heard that the community came forward to support her. Her daughter has beading supplies and books, a gift card for more books, a journal and fun hair products. Mark, who loves skateboarding, probably will be at the park today with his new skateboard and will be delighted with his movie card. Cindy has a box of goodies just for her — new kitchen and cooking supplies, a gift card to get needed spices for baking, and a warm blanket made with love for her.

Maria and her children, who have endured so much, are having a special Christmas today. They all have new blankets for their beds, and Ryan got a train set, art supplies and other wonderful surprises. Rebecca has horses to play with, building toys she wished for and other goodies.

James, the RCC student who endured years of drunken beatings and more, received cash, gift cards and bedding to help him in his transition to a new life.

Sarah was given a Bible and a devotional study book, which will bring a big smile to her face. A donor provided a gift card so she could shop for her children. Scott got the remote control vehicle he wished for and a cowboy hat and games. Hannah has art supplies and a new model horse. They will be celebrating today together, safe and free, Sea said.

Court Appointed Special Advocates representatives were overwhelmed with the gifts readers gave on behalf of the young woman who was raised in foster care and is graduating from Southern Oregon University.

"We received $3,300 towards her dental work," said Jennifer Mylenek, CASA executive director.

Two dentists offered their services free of charge for some of the work, and a dental lab offered porcelains if she needed it, Mylenek said.

"She has seen her CASA's dentist (at no charge) and needs 10 fillings to start. We are waiting to find out what else she will need," she said. "I just want to say the community, as usual, responded very generously and she is very grateful and touched by their support. She says she feels very lucky."

Susan, who thought she had a perfect life until her husband began his abuse, got much more than her stated request of a few toys for her two children and a couple of pans so she could do a little holiday baking. This family, nominated by the Job Council, received toys and kitchen supplies galore — along with furniture, a television, a vacuum cleaner, gift cards, cash and more, said Wendy Stuck, family intervention specialist for the Job Council.

Not only has Susan and her family had their needs met, others will, too, she said.

"It's been amazing," Stuck said. "I work with a lot of folks who are unemployed right now. My cubicle at work is literally full of (gifts) we will distribute to other families."

Alana, the young woman born with cerebral palsy and abandoned at birth, will receive everything staff requested to help her enjoy the therapeutic benefits of sensory integration using special products that create a relaxed atmosphere with soothing sounds, captivating aromas, tactile experiences, massage and vibration, said Jim Gochenour, director of Living Opportunities.

Alana even received a "sound bed" from one generous donor. And on Wednesday another gentleman called, saying he was mailing $1,500, he said.

"I am speechless. Happy holidays and thanks so much," Gochenour said.

The Children's Advocacy Center's family received turkeys, roasts, chickens and enough food to feed two other families in need at the center, said Marlene Mish, CAC executive director.

In addition to more than $500 in cash, these three abused but artistic children received paint sets and art supplies, she said.

"Hot Pots in Medford called and is inviting the whole family over to make a ceramic piece," Mish said. "Of course, we will be receiving more even after Christmas, but this is where we are as of today and it's only been a couple of days."

The Maslow Project candidates received many phone calls from caring individuals. All the kids' requests were met, including a bike, "girly items" and PlayStation games. The family also received gift cards to Target and several other stores for clothes, and mom received some cash donations as well. On Thursday a donor brought in an Xbox station with games and iPods for the girls as well as gift cards.

"Mom said the gifts were amazing and she was so thankful," said Mary Ferrell, Maslow director. "She said her kids would be really happy."

Maslow also received additional donations for other kids in the program who were still in need of gifts for the holiday.

Kids Unlimited nominated two families this year through Light One Candle. Thanks to the undeniable generosity of the community, an excess of $3,500 in gift cards, clothing, toys and cash donations poured through the doors, said Tom Cole, executive director.

In addition to Christmas gifts, new clothes and a full Christmas dinner, donors covered the families' rent for two full months. When asked if they got what they'd wanted for Christmas, one family responded, "There are no words for this."

"Lulu's grandmother burst into tears on delivery day while the children shrieked and danced around the house," said Mandy Capehart of Kids Unlimited.

The outpouring of generosity toward the two families nominated by the Family Nurturing Center "continues to be truly amazing and inspirational," said Mary-Curtis Gramley, executive director.

"We received $2,710 in cash and $750 in gift certificates," Gramley said. "Honestly, the actual gifts, new and gently used, filled up an entire room here at the center."

There were strollers, wagons, hundreds of toys, bedding, household goods, vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies, pots and pans, clothing for all family members, baby swing, umbrellas, a Christmas tree and a huge box of ornaments, a rolling laundry basket.

"One of the more touching elements was the response to one of the children's request for Taylor Swift music," said Gramley. "An older gentleman made a special trip to bring in a CD."

Also, the little boy can be decked out in Oregon Ducks outfits for years to come, she said. On Tuesday, the owner of Modern Dental Clinic came in with a truck and a van filled with wrapped packages for the family contributed by the clinic's entire staff. The presents came with the promise of dental work for the entire family. One of the children in this family said, "This was the very best Christmas we have ever had," Gramley said.

"Honestly, this experience still brings tears down my cheeks — it has buoyed my spirit, and for years to come, I will remember this amazing expression of caring," said Gramley.

La Clinica's candle candidate family was the last to be featured this year. But Jose and Rosa's three girls were not shorted, said Martha Rivera, maternal child health specialist. Calls are coming in with offers of work for Jose and orders for Rosa's tamales. There are boxes of food, an army of blankets, teddy bears and toys galore, gift cards and cash donations, she said.

"The mom, she just cried when we took over the gifts," Rivera said. "The dad, he was trying not to cry. The little girls were all so excited."

Caring community members are helping this struggling family both practically and personally. In fact, they've been so overwhelmed by all they've received, they are eager to share their bounty with others in need, she said.

"We all have tears in our eyes. This is just so amazing," Rivera said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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