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With $100, how would you give someone a better Christmas?

November 24, 2005|By BOB MAGINNIS

Sometimes life surprises you when you least expect it. Last week I got a surprise I definitely wasn't expecting.

That's because between Thanksgiving and New Year's, things normally slow down for the editorial page staff.

People are concentrating on family and celebrations of faith, not on politics and government. Thus, most don't write as many letters or call us to about matters of interest to them.

My surprise began with a phone call from a small-business man in Washington County.

Could he come talk to me, he asked. Sure, I said.

He came in carrying two shopping bags full of books. When he sat down, he handed me a white envelope, the kind they give you at the bank when you're getting money back.

Inside was $2,000 in cash.

He had read columns I'd written about people in need, including Alivia Koontz, the Hagerstown child who was born with a heart defect.

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But instead of raising money, he wanted me to give his cash away, $100 at a time, along with copies of "Daily Readings from 'Your Best Life Now'" by Joel Osteen, pastor of a large church in Houston, Texas.

Osteen is also seen on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, where my donor first saw him. Now he'd like to share Osteen's book with others, hoping that it will inspire them to do as he's doing and try to help others.

He came to The Herald-Mail in part because he wants to do this anonymously. After some discussion with newspaper officials, we've agreed to participate.

Here's how it will work. Readers will send in letters, between now and Tuesday, Dec. 6, answering the following question in approximately 100 words:

"If I had $100, I could make someone's Christmas better by ..."

What we are not looking for is the husband who wants to buy his wife a cashmere sweater or fancy jewelry. What we are seeking is writers who know someone without many resources, a person for whom $100 would purchase something they desperately need.

Decisions on the 20 winners will be made by some employees of The Herald-Mail, who will make an effort to see that some winners come from people who live in Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

Please include your name, address and phone number, so that if necessary we can ask you questions about the intended recipient of your charity.

I wish I could identify the donor, but he said his purpose is not to win public acclaim, but to help people and inspire other local people to do the same.

"What I'm hoping is that somebody else will be inspired to do this and it could go from 20 to whatever," he said.

He said he also hoped that local companies' management would be inspired to provide discounts for those recipients who use their money at those stories.

Perhaps small businesses could contribute to the campaign anonymously, he said.

"Then when people do business with a small business, they could thank them and that way a lot of people will get thanked," he said.

The donor has a family and I asked him if there wasn't something he could spend $2,000 on to make their lives better.

"I take care of my family and my family has taken care of me. I'm doing this because I want other people to receive the blessings I've received," he said.

"I'm not looking for anything out of this. I've already received mine. I'm living my best life now," he said.

This is something I would probably never do on my own, because I would expect all the local con artists to try to cash in on this deal.

Our donor is aware that such is a possibility, but said he believes that if his gift changes just a few lives, it will be worth it.

That there is a person in Washington County, especially a small- business person, who believes this much in the goodness of his fellow citizens is as great a surprise as his donation. Perhaps it is also a wake-up call for the rest of us to be less cynical.

Checks will be issued by the Shiloh United Methodist Church, which is not providing any of the cash, but whose leaders agreed to help us with this task.

Send letters by the Dec. 6 deadline to A Better Christmas, c/o Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Avenue, Hagerstown, MD 21740.

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