Today we unwrap the results of our fifth annual Holiday Hopes series, in which we featured four Hillsborough families in need. We asked each to make a wish. You, dear readers, granted them all and then some. You called with solutions and offers to help.
So, how does it feel to play Santa?
Laptop a portal to artist's dreams
Sara Evans, 23, is a budding artist who takes painting classes once a week at Pyramid, a training center in Tampa for people with developmental disabilities. She had been saving her money from a part-time job to expand her art and music career. She "really, really, really" wanted a Mac laptop to help her become a self-supporting artist.
After her story ran Nov. 26, donations poured in to Pyramid on Evans' behalf. She will use the money to support her arts education, said the center's visual arts coordinator Bob Terri, who was unsure of the exact total this week. Local advertising company C3 Media also stepped up to answer her wish. Chris Koch, the company's president, opted to buy the laptop on behalf of his clients instead of the gift certificates or bottles of wine he typically sends out.
"We were so glad to be able to do this," Koch said Tuesday morning after he presented the Mac Book Pro laptop to Evans. She named her new computer Angel.
Shawny Duncan and her eight children are trying to find their "new normal" after Brian Duncan died of a heart attack two days after Thanksgiving. The husband and father had been recovering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, and had been unable to work full time. The Duncans said in a Dec. 17 article that they needed help with everyday living expenses. Shawny Duncan wanted a stable home to raise and homeschool her children, ages 10 months to 16.
This week, checks totaling $3,570 had arrived for the Duncans in the mailbox at the Greater Brandon Community Foundation. Callers promised more, said Anne Nymark, of the foundation, including one caller who offered to cover rent for a year.
A ramp to the world
Billie Dougherty had been imprisoned in her home for months, unable to get past the four steps outside the front door. Overweight and struggling with other ailments, she told readers in an article Dec. 10 that she needed a ramp for her wheelchair.
And on Monday, a six-man crew built one for her. On Tuesday, she rolled out her front door for the first time in three months.
"I'm going out to do my own Christmas shopping," said Dougherty. She had been looking at advertisements and sending her mom to get gifts for family members. Five contractors offered to build the ramp for free and dozens of readers donated more than $4,000 in cash to Citylife Church on Central Avenue on Dougherty's behalf. The money exceeded the amount needed to cover ramp materials. Dougherty said she will use what's left over for a weight loss program.
A nonprofit foundation
After their 2-year-old son, Ezra, died in November, Kyle and Robyn Matthews decided to start a foundation with the goal of curing pediatric cancer. They had chronicled his yearlong fight against cancer on a blog, visited by hundreds of thousands of readers. Then they told how the journey had increased their faith in a Dec. 3 Holiday Hopes article.
As of this week, the Matthewses had received about $200 in checks and a dozen e-mails. The family took a much-needed vacation — 12 days on a mountaintop in Greece — and returned last week. They plan to start working on their nonprofit foundation, which will officially accept donations beginning Jan. 1 at becauseofezra.org.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.