Community's generosity allows many to have a Merry Christmas

Things are quiet here this morning at my cottage on the Rogue River. The parrots are munching on peanut butter and banana toast. Squiggy is noshing on a bit of tuna. Yours truly is sipping a cuppa tea sweetened with peach juice — and reflecting upon the outpouring of generosity that made Christmas so much merrier for those in need in our little corner of the world.

Every single Light One Candle candidate received gifts galore from Santas hither and yon. The Moriarty family, that blessed and blended family of nine (plus one on the way), saw their fears turn into their wildest fantasies as donations from perfect strangers poured in all month long.

Cpl. Stephan Moriarty, the father who is serving in Iraq, said knowing his family lives in such a supportive community made being a world away easier to bear. His wife, Sabena, a former Marine, said the relief of knowing her husband is able to focus on the job at hand helps ease her stress. And the lessons her children have learned about compassion and humility are soul-building, she said.

I'd say the Moriarty kids are already amazing.

As I was leaving their rented Ashland home on Christmas Eve, a group of teens stopped by to give Sabena's oldest daughter, Alexandra, a few gifts.

The snowboard and the boots were awesome, the shocked teen said. But what the 17-year-old really exclaimed about most was a party snack.

With a smile that would put the lights on Candy Cane Lane to shame, Alexandra held aloft a plate bearing some crackers and a nut-encrusted salmon ball and exclaimed with joy, "Look Mom! They made this just for me!"

Seems the simple hors d'oeuvre is a special favorite of Alexandra's. That her friends remembered, and took the time to make her a homemade gift from the heart, was golden.

She gets it — this kid who'd already completed the 40 hours of training necessary to become a shelter volunteer at Dunn House before her family's plight was plastered all over the Mail Tribune.

They all get it. Brandon, her 15-year-old brother, said being the public faces of Light One Candle this year was "a bit embarrassing." But he was glad they'd done it. He'd heard from so many of his fellow classmates at Ashland High School who are in similar straits. It helps knowing he's not alone. And it helps knowing his friends now can talk to him about their worries, too.

"I think it helps to talk and know someone understands," Brandon said.

Perhaps a few of Brandon's troubled pals' families already have received help from the Hope Chest. For thanks to the Moriartys' willingness to tell their story, and because of everyone's generous support, 10 more families were saved from the brink of homelessness this season, said Dee Anne Everson, United Way of Jackson County director.

How glorious is that?

One of the stories that touched me most was hearing the women who had escaped horrific domestic violence were being helped by women who previously had walked in their broken and battered footsteps. Thank you for paying it forward, brave ladies.

It wasn't only Candle candidates who benefited from our local Good Samaritans. Homebound Food & Friends seniors had their simple gift requests of socks, slippers and other necessary items fulfilled thanks to six giving trees placed throughout the community in local businesses. The story of the giving trees didn't end with last week's article. People continued to call and ask where they could bring their presents. At least one gentleman offered to become a new driver. And when one forlorn senior who asked to be included after the trees' tags had all been collected, Kristy Gallon of Lock N Key Mini Storage went out and bought three more presents so that someone she's never met would have some holiday joy. Never mind that she and her mother already had donated gifts for multiple tags. Kristy believes the holidays are not just about one's own family, but the extended family that makes up our entire community.

She is not alone. From the volunteers who helped build our new teen homeless shelter, Hearts With a Mission, to Robin and Derek Fusmer, who reach out with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in Hawthorne Park, to two St. Mary's School teens, Aubrie Street and Keenan Grant, who amassed a mountain of diapers for the babies and toddlers at the Family Nurturing Center, people gave and gave and gave.

They have not stopped giving. Of this I am certain.

To the folks on the giving and receiving end of this annual series of stories, thank you so much. 'Tis my holiday season's greatest gift to bear witness to your humanity, and then have the opportunity to share it with our community.

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

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