Friday, March 1, 2013

Good news: People are still helping people

2/27/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

It’s time for a good news column to chase away the gloom and doom of dreary winter days, How about some news in which humanity brightly shines? We’ll start out with a headline that looks like anything but good news.

“Widow, 91, Sells Everything to Bury Husband.” The morning of Feb. 16, this ABC News headline jumped right off my Yahoo homepage and stabbed me in the heart. A photo of a sweet lady, nearly penniless, mourning her husband’s recent death, accompanied this story from KOMO News Seattle:

“A 91-year-old Arlington, Wash., widow is selling all of her belongings so she can afford to bury her late husband. Elsie Smith told she is hoping that by selling all of her possessions through an estate sale, she can bury her husband in the same cemetery as their family members in Snohomish, Wash.

“Smith had been married to her late husband, Joe Smith, for "46 and a half years," she said. Joe Smith passed away at the age of 88 on Feb. 5. For the past two years, he had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

"I loved that man more than anything in this whole wide world," she told KOMO. Smith has a total of $9 to her name and she thinks it will cost about $3,000 for the funeral." "I would like to get some help in any way that I possibly can," she said. Everything is up for grabs in Smith's apartment when the sale takes place, except "her makeup and her clothes and her husband's clothing.”

The story was followed by 1,110 online comments. All of them positive and sympathetic. People wrote of the toll Alzheimer’s takes not only physically and emotionally but financially. Some were amazed at how long she and her husband were married. Others wondered why our nation doesn’t take better care of our elderly.

Many were looking for a link to help her financially. James said, “This is one cause I would donate to.” Robert agreed. He said, “If 3,000 people could give her a dollar we could all help. Come on, people!”

Well, it turns out that there was a link and it was on the newspaper’s website. “Anonymous” gave instructions: Google ABC Seattle page, click on Problem Solvers, click donate and put her name on top of the page. Well, it was a beginning. But by the time I got there contributions weren’t needed. Elsie’s husband’s funeral was paid for and she had a little extra money to boot.

The good news was heralded in another news story on Feb. 18: “Generous KOMO viewers step up to help Arlington widow. ‘It's completely unbelievable. We get donations from our viewers all the time, but I have never seen anything like this in the entire time I've been here,’ said News Director Holly Gauntt.

Donations and well wishes were pouring in even as Elsie was having her estate sale, even as people who had seen her story were looking at her things, wanting to help in some way.

Elsie's story was picked up and shared on websites all over the world, and KOMO got calls from all over the country. People offered cemetery plots, a minister offered to preside over Joe's funeral, and there were donations big and small.

One man and his wife donated $3,000. "My wife and I are doing well, and there just comes a time in life when you have to do something for someone else. It was just that compelling," he said.

The following Monday, KOMO was able to present Elsie with a check for $12,000.  "I don't know what to say. I'm just dumbfounded," Elsie said. "I'm just overjoyed," she said.

Elsie and a friend visited with an attorney on Monday to figure out how best to handle the money and the upcoming funeral. She recently moved full-time into the Regency Care Center in Arlington, and thanks to the generosity of KOMO viewers, she will now be taken care of.”

Now if that doesn’t warm your heart, I don’t know what will. But maybe you’re thinking, ‘I’d like to help, but I don’t have much to give.’ Let me tell you about the Shoe Shine man at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburg, PA. The hospital is his charity of choice and he has donated over $200,000 to their patients—shining shoes!

Albert Lexie began shining shoes in 1957 and has been shining shoes at the hospital for 32 years. A shoeshine costs five dollars but his customers are big tippers. “Most of them give $6, some of them give $7,” he told WTAE-TV News anchor Wendy Bell. At Christmas a doctor gave him a $50 bill. That’s some tip!

The money goes to parents of sick children who can’t afford to pay medical costs. Dr. Joseph Carcillo says, “He’s donated over a third of his lifetime salary to the Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund. He’s a philanthropist, is what he is. He’s an entrepreneur.”

So I did the math. A lifetime total of $200,000 divided by 32 years of donations equals $6,250 per year. Assuming that Mr. Lexie takes Sundays off and maybe a two-week vacation, that means he works about 288 days a year. That is an average of $21.70 per day that he is able to give to the hospital. Amazing!

Most of us can’t save that much money but I know from experience that it is possible to save something every day just by dumping change in my piggy bank.  My conclusion is that if we can’t help everyone…we can help someone. If we like, we can chose to be mini-philanthropists and bring a ray of sunshine into someone’s life—even in February.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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