Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Resolution: eat at Enotecca Maria

Jody Scaravella of Staten Island, NY, had hard-working parents who were seldom home. His grandmother, Nonna Domenica, passed their family culture down to him by cooking Italian meals the old-fashioned way. Ten years ago, after losing his grandma and his mother, he opened a restaurant on Staten Island called Enoteca Maria. Instead of hiring a chef, he advertised in the Italian paper for grandmothers willing to cook their favorite recipes, like the braccioli and potatoes, shown here.

Since then, he's added a second kitchen. Four Italian nonnas rotate as chefs in one kitchen, while the other kitchen is used by a rotation of grandmas from many other countries, including Greece, Poland, Syria and Turkey. "Every time these ladies are in the kitchen cooking," you have hundreds of years of culture coming out of their fingertips," says Scaravella.

Scaravella is surprised so many of his customers are from Manhattan, where "there's a restaurant every twenty feet, so why come here?" But he's also received calls for reservations from England, Austria and Italy. Everyone comes for a homemade meal and to experience grandma's cooking -- which they may not be able to have with their own nonnas anymore. Scaravella says usually, at the end of the day, customers applaud the grandmas who have cooked for them. "They get standing ovations on a regular basis," he said, "and it's really something nice." Nonnas are now contributing their treasured family recipes to a new, online cookbook. For a peek, visit Maybe you'll find a precious recipe to make for your grandchildren. And if you visit the restaurant, leave your credit cards at home. They accept cash only -- the way things used to be.

Friday, December 30, 2016

What does it mean to love your wife?

It happened 140 years ago this week. Phil and Lucy Bliss and their two sons, ages one and three, celebrated Christmas at his parent's home in the tiny farm town of Rome, PA. Then Phil was called back to Chicago on business, so they left the boys behind to enjoy an extended holiday with their grandparents. After arriving in Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 29, Phil and Lucy boarded the Chicago-bound Pacific Express at 2 p.m. It left Buffalo an hour late, and could only go 15 miles per hour because of a blinding snowstorm. As evening approached, the engine headlight threw a short dim flash into the darkening blizzard. Finally, at 7:45 p.m. the crowded train approached Ashtabula, Ohio. To reach the station, it had to cross a 200-foot-long wooden trestle over a ravine.  The train slowed to ten miles per hour as it crept across the bridge in the snowy darkness. Then, according to another passenger, "Only the engine had passed over when the bridge collapsed. I heard a cracking sound in the front part of our carriage. Then another in the back; then a sickening sudden sinking. I was thrown from my seat, hearing splintering and smashing all around me. The train fell 70 feet into the icy riverbed below. Within minutes, broken stoves and lamps set each car afire. Men who were strong enough escaped through windows into waist-deep icy water, and then tried to rescue their wives."

Fortunately, Phil Bliss was able to escape out an open window into the icy water, but his wife Lucy was trapped inside by the tangled metal of broken seats. As flames engulfed the car, Phil saw she could not escape, so he climbed back inside to hold her in his arms. Their remains were never found.  

So who was Phillip Bliss?  He was one of the most famous Christian song writers in history! For 12 years, he wrote hymns which cheered hearts around the world and are still sung today. Maybe you remember "Let the Lower Lights be Burning" or "Dare to be a Daniel" or "Almost Persuaded." As America mourned his death, memorial services were held from coast to coast. At a service in Chicago, the church was filled with 8,000 mourners. Four-thousand more were turned away, but refused to leave, standing outside the church in silent respect.

Before boarding the Pacific Express, Phil had sent his luggage ahead. It arrived in Chicago on another train the next day. When friends opened his suitcase, they found a draft copy of the last hymn he wrote. It begins, "I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes -- So on I go, not knowing. I would not if I might. I'd rather walk by faith with God, than walk alone by sight."

Would you like to hear one of Philip Bliss's most popular hymns, "Dare to be a Daniel!" sung by young children? Here's the link.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Angels spotted in Indianapolis

Navy veteran Billy Myers, 63, wasn't feeling very well, and his home in Indianapolis was falling apart. "I got too old to fix my home," he said, "and it became to much for me, and I also had health problems."  Finally Myers went to the VA hospital, where he lost a lung and spent time recovering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The dust and debris in his home had harmed his health, and family members were planning his funeral, assuming he'd die at the hospital. But while he recovered, a group called Helping Heroes of America got the keys to his empty house.

Contractors from Bartley's Painting and Matt's Priority Home Repair went inside. They ripped out 30-year-old carpet and fixed a bathroom that was near collapse. Brian Bartley said this was "probably one of the most inspirational jobs I have ever done in the 26 years I've been in business." Helping Heroes of America spent $30,000 to transform and remodel the entire house. Myers is back home again, surrounded by love this Christmas season. "It's a total miracle," says his sister Debbie Busbin. "I know he'll be okay." Myers agrees. "I did not think anybody cared," he said, "but now I see that they do."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How strong can mother love be?

This month, Karen and Eric Klein of Easton, PA,  brought their 10-year-old son Isaac to see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. When the family found SR 67 to the North Rim closed for winter, they sought an alternative way to reach the canyon. A second road does exist, but it's impassable. Not knowing this, they tried the road and soon their rental car became stranded. Karen, 47, is a triathlete and her husband had recently been in an accident, so she said, "I'll go. I'll just walk up to the main road. I'm a runner." And she left.

After hiking 36 hours of 30 miles of snow, eating twigs for food, she said her maternal instincts kicked in. She recalled thinking, "I can't leave my son without a mom. I can't leave my husband without a wife. I am not letting my parents bury me." Finally she broke into a vacant residence for park rangers and collapsed under a blanket, too weary to start a fire. That's where a search and rescue team found her. When she failed to return to the car, her husband hiked to higher ground where his cell phone worked and called for help. Coconino County Sheriff's official Jim Driscoll called the rescue "a Christmas miracle. Our guys are ecstatic. This was a save," he said.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Facebook typo causes Christmas miracle

Amy Rickel moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, so her three small children could be closer to their dad. Before she could find a job, they stayed in a motel. Then her car stopped running and she ran out of money. Shelters open to families with children had a three-month waiting list. In desperation, she sent a private Facebook message to a friend, asking for prayers. Then she realized she'd sent it to a complete stranger, Brian Van Boxtel, who has a similar name to her friend. She apologized to Brian, and cried as she explained her plight. He said one idea came to his mind. "What would Jesus do?" He told her God puts us in people's lives for a reason. Then he came to see her and paid her hotel bill.

Brian convinced Amy to open a GoFundMe crowdfunding account. It caught the attention of many who wanted to help, including Kathy Schumann, who cleared a room in her home and invited Amy and her children to be her guests over Christmas. She also loaned Amy a mini-van. Chad Morack also felt compelled to help. When he found out Amy is a licensed practical nurse, he reached out to his network. Bottom line? She starts a new full-time job at TotalMed on January 3, just nine days after her Facebook typo. Before Amy typed the wrong name on Facebook, she and Brian and Kathy and Chad had never met. Now they'll all best friends.   "It totally restored my faith in more than just humanity, my faith in God," said a grateful Amy.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Traveling Bags of Kindness

Today's crumb comes from an alert reader in Plymouth, Indiana. She noticed a story from the Richmond, Indiana, Palladium-Item about a 10-year-old fifth grader named Olivia Dudas. Olivia was watching a TV program about paying it forward, and created a plan to make kids in her town smile. Her mom Andrea shared Olivia's plan on Facebook. It's quite simple. Neighbors take one of Olivia's empty gift bags and put in at least one item a child would like. Then they pass their bag along to another trusted friend, who adds another gift. By day 2, 16 bags were requested and delivered. By day three, 22 bags, and now more than 33 are in circulation.

                                                                                              Joshua Smith / Palladium-Item
"It makes me happy that so many people care about kids in need," says Olivia. "I'm extremely, extremely happy because everyone is joining together putting kindness into a bag and it is traveling." One Girl Scout troop is contributing gifts for teenagers. After the Dec. 20 deadline, Olivia will deliver the bags to the Salvation Army and Genesis shelters so the items can be given to their young clients. Olivia already plans to revive Traveling Bags of Kindness next Christmas.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Donations amaze school administrators

Templeton Elementary School in Bloomington, Indiana, has 24 homeless students this year. Most are living with relatives or in motels or shelters. As reported in the Herald-Times, the school's PTO started a drive with two Facebook posts, hoping to help them. The posts said that at Templeton, one out of every 20 students is homeless, and seven out of ten qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Almost immediately, donations (pictured here) came pouring in.

                                                                                                          Courtesy Photo
There were days when the school atrium was buried under the sheer volume of donations, including Amazon boxes sent to the school from donors across America. By December 15, donations overflowed the cafeteria where Girl Scouts who attend the school gathered to assemble supplies In addition to a new back pack stuffed with cold weather essentials and a draw-string bag full of food stuffs to help over the winter break, all 24 homeless students will receive a care package stuffed with basics and essentials once-a-month until summer vacation. That's a total of 144 care packages. Surplus food items are being donated by the school to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Day, 2016

Words by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892

The outward symbols disappear
From him whose inward sight is clear;
And small must be the choice of days
To him who fills them all with praise!

Keep while you need it, brothers mine,
With honest zeal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Showing appreciation for those who serve us

As reported by Joshua Becker, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop back in the day when ice cream sundaes cost much less than today. He sat at a table and a waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked. "Fifty cents," replied the waitress. The boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied his coins. "Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he asked. Meanwhile, people were waiting for tables, and the waitress became impatient. "Thirty five cents," she replied brusquely. The boy again counted his coins. Then he said, "I'll have a plain ice cream. The waitress brought him a dish of ice cream, put his bill on the table, and hurried away.

The boy finished his ice cream, paid the cashier and left the coffee shop. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside his empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he could not have the sundae because he wanted to have enough money left over to give her a tip.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why Bana loves the president of Turkey

Our December 3 crumb described a seven-year-old Syrian girl named Bana al-Abed, who tweeted about living in the bombed-out city of Aleppo. She tweeted pictures of her house covered by smoke after it was bombed. Her tweets reached 325,000 people. If you watched the news and saw the long lines of busses which were halted while trying to evacuate civilians from Aleppo recently, you may wonder what happened to her.

Bana and her family escaped Aleppo last Sunday after spending a full 24 hours on a bus without food or water. Her mother, Fatemah, says "We stayed like a prisoner, a hostage, but finally we arrived in Turkey and we thank God and all our friends who have supported us. We created our Twitter to tell the world what happened there. We are happy because our voice reached so many people." After arriving in Turkey, Bana was invited to meet President Recip Tayyip Erdogan (shown above), at the presidential palace in Ankara. A video of the meeting appears to show Bana telling the president, "Thank you for supporting the children of Aleppo, and helping us to get out from the war. I love you."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A reason to re-Joice!

Two years ago, Joice, who lives in rural Kenya, wore old clothes, lived in a run-down house, and often skipped meals so her children could eat. Then she went to a meeting at a local school. It was hosted by a non-governmental agency called GiveDirectly. It's goal is to end household poverty through unconditional cash transfers given directly from donors to recipients. Joice was assigned number 6875. It meant she'd receive free sums of money without doing anything in return. Over the next year, she received three donations equaling about $1,000 US.

"What surprised me was the unconditionality of the money," she said. "I felt so dignified to be recognized as capable of setting my own priorities." First she bought a goat. Then she used the funds to pay off the cost of her education. Finally she chose to work for the organization that helped her. Today she is a GiveDirectly field officer in Kenya, where she's helping launch a massive cash transfer experiment that will include more than 6,000 recipients over the next decade. And she still shares her story every day. "It elevated my self-esteem as an individual," she says.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Proud Dad moment

Daniel Medina and his pre-teen sons, Daniel Jr. and Dominic, live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They were driving home from the mall last Sunday after a snow storm when the boys asked their dad to pull over and stop. They'd noticed a man trying to shovel his sidewalk while sitting in a wheelchair, and wanted to help him out.

"I never thought they'd want to get out and shovel," Medina said. The man "told us he recently had his leg amputated, and that's why he was in a wheelchair." Medina was so proud of his sons spontaneous generosity that he posted this photo on Facebook, where it has received more than 2,000 likes. "I let the kids read the comments on Facebook," said Medina. "They were so excited."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

When hope was candy-coated

Today's crumb first appeared in 2014, but deserves an encore this Christmas. It concerns Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, the only American bomber pilot after WWII to receive the German Cross of Merit. Here's how it happened. When the war ended, Germany was divided into sectors governed by victorious allies. Berlin was also divided, but it lay deep within the Russian sector. Hoping other allies would give up their parts of Berlin, the Russians cut off all road and rail access to the city. For 15 months, allied forces had to fly 15 million tons of supplies, mostly food, into West Berlin to guarantee its freedom. Col. Halvorsen was an airlift pilot. One day after landing a planeload of flour, he noticed 30 children outside the fence of Templehof Airport. Ragged and hungry, they never asked for food. When he passed two sticks of gum through the fence, they did not fight over the treats. They cut the sticks into tiny pieces so each child could have a sniff. Halvorsen was so moved by this unselfishsness that he promised to bring more gum the next day and drop it from his plane before landing. "How will we know you?" the children asked. "I'll wiggle my wings," he said.
Fellow pilots gave him their candy rations, and he dropped candy and gum for two weeks, using handkerchiefs for tiny parachutes. As the crowd of children grew, he received thank-you notes addressed to "Onkel Wackelflugel," Uncle Wiggly Wings. When word got back to the United States, the National Confectioners Association offered to donate all the candy Halvorsen could drop. Treats arrived at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, where local school children assembled the handkerchief parachutes. By the end of the airlift, 21 tons of candy had been dropped to the children of West Berlin. As one Berliner told Halvorsen years later, "It wasn't just chocolate you gave us. It was hope."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

And a little child shall lead them...

Reese Russell, 7, is a third grader at Forest Park Public School in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. About a month ago, she and her mom were in line at a Tim Horton's drive-thru when she saw a homeless man digging through a nearby garbage can for food. She started asking questions, ending with, "could we get him something for Christmas?" When mom said the homeless man probably wouldn't get much for Christmas this year, Reese decided she'd help 10 less fortunate people this Christmas. She made a video for her mom's Facebook page, expecting most responses would be from family and close friends. But has been viewed more than 20,000 times so far.

                                                                                                            St. Thomas Times-Journal
Not only that. Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio praised her fundraising efforts in the House of Commons, and local businesses joined Reese's efforts. A GoFundMe page attracted nearly $500 in 16 days. Reese now has enough deodorants, shaving cream and other useful items to hand out 100 personalized gift baskets to those in need on December 25. Donations will be spread around several local charities, but Reese's mom says, "She wants to be there to hand the baskets to the people in need. It's just what she wants to do."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Are you going home for Christmas?

This poem is adapted from one by Edgar Guest. The illustration is by Norman Rockwell.

He little knew the sorrow that was in his vacant chair;
He never guessed they'd miss him, or he'd surely have been there.
He couldn't see his mother or the lump that filled her throat,
Or the tear that started falling as she read his hasty note.
And he couldn't see his father sitting sorrowful and dumb,
Or he never would have texted that he thought he couldn't come.

He couldn't see the fading of the cheeks that once were pink,
And the silver in the tresses, and he didn't stop to think
How the years are passing swiftly, and next Christmas it might be
There would be no home to visit and no mother dear to see.
He didn't think about it. I'll not say he didn't care.
He was heedless and forgetful, or he'd surely have been there.

Are you going home for Christmas? Have you written you'll be there?
Going home to kiss your mother and show her that you care?
Going home to see your father in a way to make him glad?
If you're not, I hope there'll never come a time you wish you had.
Just sit down and grab your iPhone -- it will make their heartstrings hum
With a tune of perfect gladness -- if you text them that you'll come.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Bus driver warms children's hands and hearts

This month a little boy in Kennewick, Washington, waited for the school bus. The weather was frigid, and his ears and hands were turning red with cold. When school bus driver John Lunceford stopped for him, he noticed the boy was crying. "I'm a grandfather, you know. Nobody wants a kid to suffer like that," Lunceford said.

                                                                                                      Kennewick School District
After Lunceford finished his morning run and dropped off his bus, he went to the Dollar Store and then back to school with ten new sets of gloves and stocking hats, in black and pink. An administrator helped Lunceford find the little boy in the library, and the driver gave him the first hat and gloves. On the ride home, he told everyone on his bus that anyone who did not have a hat and gloves should see him. One girl quickly asked for a hat. "I'll take care of you, sweetie," the driver said, according to the school district Facebook page. Lunceford is an Army veteran and has been driving a school bus for three years.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Twas the light before Christmas...

Erik Gaines of Puyallup, Washington, doesn't claim to be Clark Griswold, but he decorates his house with lots of Christmas lights and his family loves them. Except this year. This year he had just climbed a ladder to start stringing lights when he and his ladder fell to the ground. He broke his leg badly. His family called 911 and a paramedic unit and fire engine quickly arrived and took Gaines to Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment. Before the fire engine pulled away, Gaines little daughter told a fireman, "I don't think I want Christmas lights this year." Asked why, she said, "Because Daddy got hurt." That's when the men from Engine Company 66 knew what they had to do.

Without the slightest hesitation, they put Gaines' ladder back up on the porch roof and climbed up. For more than an hour they crawled along the edges of the various roofs, carefully wiring his Christmas lights. His family were inside, making the house wheelchair accessible for him after he's released from Good Samaritan. Meanwhile, Gaines says the firemen's unexpected kindness "makes me feel amazing. It makes me feel that much more tied to the community, like we're all looking out for one another."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Are girls more trouble than boys? Read this.

A few days after Thanksgiving, Eric Heffelmire of Vienna, VA, was in his detached garage trying to fix some corroded brake lines on his truck when the unthinkable happened. He recalls, "I was on my back, face up, when apparently the jack slipped and (the truck) fell down on me. It pinned me." Gasoline spilled, and there was an explosion. "I thought they'll be pulling out a dead body later in the evening," he said.

                                                                                    Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department
Eric's 19-year-old daughter Charlotte was home from the Air Force Academy for Thanksgiving break. She saw the truck drop on her dad and catch fire, and still can't explain what happened next. In her own words, "I lifted the truck the first time. He (dad) said 'OK, you almost got it.' Finally I managed to get him out. It was some crazy strength, and I pulled him out." But that's not the end of the story. Once her Dad was safe, Charlotte got into the burning truck and drove it, on three wheels, out of the garage. "I didn't want the entire house to explode with the truck, so I started the truck, put it in four wheel drive and just drove out." She then closed the garage doors to help contain the fire, and went inside her house and got everybody out, picking up her sister's baby first.  By now flames were shooting out of the garage, so Charlotte grabbed a garden hose to knock the flames away from their house until fire engines arrived. "I just did what I had to do," she says. "I don't feel like a big hero or anything." Her heroism earned her a life-saving award from the fire department, and her dad's eternal gratitude.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Helping refugees, one bean at a time

Today's crumb was recommended by an alert reader in Plymouth, Indiana. It takes us to the Atlanta suburb of Clarkston, Georgia -- a tiny, 1.64 square mile neighborhood which Time magazine calls "the most diverse square mile in America." Why? Because it's a United Nations refugee resettlement area. Each year, more than 2,000 refugees make Clarkston their home, 70,000 since 1980. Many travel over an hour to work in a chicken processing factory, but now there's another option.

Refuge Coffee Company hires only refugees. While learning skills, they receive a mentor and free education in everything from English language to body language. Instead of doing business FOR refugees, the coffee company does business WITH refugees. The coffee truck creates a multi-ethnic gathering place, where none existed before. And it's a powerful welcoming engine, connecting employees with the rest of Atlanta, and beyond. And the coffee is famously delicious.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Son's viral tweets make mom's day

Figan Hett of Manchester, England, sews and knits for therapeutic reasons. She's a counselor, and believes creativity is good for the soul. She often gives her clients this advice. Last November 26, she rented a table at a craft fair and displayed her best knitting. Hours went by, and nobody bought anything. When her son, Martyn Hett, 28, texted his mom to see how she was doing, she told him in was a "wasted day" and she was disappointed.

That's when Martyn took action. He tweeted out his mum's reply, and mentioned that she has a Depop page, which is similar to Etsy, where people buy and sell homemade goods. One of his friends immediately used the page to buy a knitted glove creature. A few more friends also bought goods, and then "the knit hit the fan."  Demand for her knitting grew so fast that she had to buy more materials to meet the demand from customers in the UK and USA. Some customers ask her to knit specific hearts to honor relatives who have passed away. She's decided to donate her earnings to a local charity, Beacon Counseling. But like a good mum, she kept a few pounds back to buy a book about Twitter, so she can learn how it works.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Not a Bill Murray fan? Maybe you will be now.

Maryellen Wible is affectionately known as grandma. Last year about this time, her husband of 73 years passed away, and she was feeling a little lonely this month as her 94th birthday approached. She loves basketball and Baylor University, so her grandson Noah, 24, decided to take her to watch Baylor play Xavier College. Little did Grandma know she have front row seats to see Baylor win. But the best was yet to come.

                                                                                                                              Noah Wible
Movie star Bill Murray's son is an assistant coach for Xavier College, and Bill came to the game. He was surrounded by fans asking for selfies, and then his team lost. That's when Noah Wible approached and asked for a photo with his grandma for her 94th birthday. Murray responded, "I think we should sing 'Happy Birthday,' don't you?" He came over to meet grandma, and when he started singing, about 100 basketball fans join in the chorus. Days later, like any good grandma, Maryellen called her grandson to ask for Bill Murray's address. "I really want to send him a thank-you note for what he did for me," she explained.

Friday, December 9, 2016

12-year-old boy would rather sew than play soccer

Three years ago, when Campbell Whittaker was 9, he asked his mom if she could buy Christmas gifts for kids in the hospital. The family lives in Hobart, Australia, and his mom said she could not afford to be that generous, because she has nine children. So Campbell decided to make the gifts himself. He asked permission to use her sewing machine, and she said, "Sure, knock yourself out."

                                                                                                                     Elise Fantin
Soon he'd designed and sewn his first "comfort bear" for parents to give their hospitalized child. Gradually his project expanded. Now 12, he's pushed himself for the past two years to create one new teddy bear each day for charity. His mom is glad she didn't say "no" when he asked to use her sewing machine. "Look at the last three years of experience and practice and skill he's got...look at what the word 'yes' has done."

Thursday, December 8, 2016

After hanging on for dear life, Tigger has a home

Lt. Nick Grimmer is a helicopter pilot with the Flying Tigers, Britain's 814th Naval Air Squadron.  He says he's never late, but something unexpected delayed him recently. He'd just finished driving 300 miles from Birmingham to Cornwall. When he arrived and turned off the engine, he was sure he heard a very faint meowing from his car. He said, "I looked in the boot, under the bonnet, and climbed all over and under it but still could not find what was making the noise."

                                                                                             Solent News
"I called up some of our air engineers, who came and helped me to start dismantling my pride and joy. On taking off the rear bumper, we were greeted by a tiny tiger-striped kitten. He must have had a long journey, but was remarkably unharmed. Since I'm never late for work, I was left with no option but to take my new friend with me. The place he felt most comfortable is in my flying helmet, which is the only place he is able to sleep." Lt. Grimmer tried to find the owner of the kitten, but when this was impossible, he adopted it and named it Tigger.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Second-grader does the right thing

Phoebe Brown, 7, of Independence, Missouri, was food shopping with her Mom recently at a Hy-Vee market when she noticed a piece of paper on the floor. She picked it up and discovered it was a winning lottery ticket worth $100 dollars. What an exciting Christmas present that could be!

But Phoebe never considered how many Barbies she could buy with the winnings. Instead, she donated all of it to the Sycamore Hills Elementary School food drive. Thanks to her generous gift, the school donated over 1,700 canned goods, and 541 of them came from Phoebe's second grade class. As a bonus, this outpouring of groceries led the school to win the Independence School District's annual food drive competition, and as a reward, the school's gym teacher Herb Horseman let students in the second grade shave his long beard. And a lot of needy people got free food.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A snow lesson about life

The snow in which I sank up to my knees,
When yesterday I tried to walk upon it,
Has undergone since then a cold night's freeze,
And I can walk upon it now with ease.

Much than I found impossible before
I now perform without a second thought,
And much that now appears beyond my power
Will be performed in some approaching hour.
Max Dunaway

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"You don't feel homeless here."

As reported in The Christian Science Monitor and other media, anybody can get a free midday meal Monday through Friday at the Kansas City Community Kitchen (KCCK) in Missouri. Most of the diners are homeless, and expect to wait in line for a hot bowl of whatever. But at KCCK, they are met at the door by a host and shown to a table. A waitress takes their order, and it's brought to their table. When they leave, a busboy clears their dishes. "They're treating me good," said one diner, "like they don't know I'm homeless. It's different."

"You don't feel homeless here," says another diner. "The food is healthy. The people really care. They don't stigmatize you." KCCK has been around since the 1980s, and run by Episcopal Community Services since 2005. But it wasn't until last year that it embraced the "dining with dignity" restaurant-style approach. Varied and healthy menus using less sugar and salt are created by executive chef Michael Curry, who once ate at soup kitchens himself and now owns a Kansas City restaurant. And KCCK does more than feed the homeless. Dozens of volunteers are needed, and many come from area high schools and middle schools. They learn work skills, and how to interact respectfully with the homeless. "Everyone has a right to be nourished and sustained, and we'll do that with both food and learning," says chef Curry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Rowling sends Harry Potter books to Aleppo

Have you heard of Bana al-Abed? She's seven years old, and lives in Aleppo, Syria, with her parents and two younger brothers. She and her siblings are home-schooled. Last September, helped by family and friends, she began tweeting about life among the bombs. Her tweets went viral. She has 195,000 followers. On Nov. 24 she tweeted, "Oh dear world. I am crying tonight. My friend was killed by a bomb. I can't stop crying." Later she tweeted a picture, saying it was not a photo of a cloud. It was smoke, where her house used to be. On Nov. 29 she tweeted, "My beloved dolls died in the bombing of our house. I am very sad but happy to be alive. We have no home now. I am hungry." She may have felt forgotten, as much of the world got busy shopping for Christmas, but one person remembered her.

Her mother, Fatemah, tweeted J.K. Rowling, saying Bana was hoping to read Harry Potter books to her brothers. Very quickly, a member of Rowling's team reached out to Twitter to ask if they could read an eBook. Two days later, Bana tweeted this photo of herself. Rowling tweeted back, "Love you to, Bana! Thinking of you, keep safe." Her mother told CNN they are reading the first book in the series "little by little," in between bombardments. "It's too early to choose a favorite character," she added. "Especially today, many bombs distracted Bana." Bana is one of thousands of boys and girls in Syria who need humanitarian assistance. Let's pray this Christmas for a way to help them survive.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Martin Luther would be proud

It happened recently in Seattle, Washington. Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd donated the land, and volunteers gathered to built fourteen tiny homes in one weekend. Each home has electricity and oil heat, and is insulated. A separate building contains bathrooms and running water, with showers coming soon.

Each home costs about $2,000 to build, and residents who would otherwise be homeless pay $90 per month for utilities. The buildings provide temporary housing until occupants can be moved to permanent homes. The first residents have already moved in. Why do these buildings appeal to the homeless? According to church member Steve Tucker, "The difference is that you have electricity and a lock on the door."

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dolly Parton offers $1,000 a month

Dolly Parton grew up in Sevier county, Tennessee, and never forgot her roots. This week, the country star said she was heartbroken to hear 15,000 acres of rural Tennessee have been destroyed by fire, with more than 700 buildings damaged.

"I've always believed that charity begins at home," she said, "and that's why I've asked my Dollywood provide $1,000 a month to all those families who lost their homes in the fires, until they get back on their feet."

Dolly is widely known for her charity work. In the 1990's she founded "Imagination Library"which sends children in Sevier county a free book each month from birth to age five. The program has grown to include many communities in the U.S, Canada and the U.K.