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Can you help someone make it through the winter?

February 27, 2008

In 2005 and 2006, a local businessman who chose to remain anonymous sent me $2,000 each year to give away in $100 increments to Herald-Mail readers.

In addition to the cash, each person also received a copy of "Daily Readings from 'Your Best Life Now'" by Joel Osteen, pastor of a large church in Houston, Texas.

The only condition was that would-be recipients had to write a short letter telling how they would make "A Better Christmas" for someone with the money.

That generosity sparked others to add to the fund, so that everyone who wrote a letter in 2005 was able to fulfill a Christmas wish for someone else.

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The 2006 "Better Christmas" was even more successful, with many individual donors and a $2,000 corporate donor.

In 2007, our original donor chartered a bus and offered free tickets to those interested in attending an appearance by Joel Osteen at Baltimore's First Mariner Arena. More than 40 were able to attend and many wrote thank-you notes, which I forwarded to their anonymous benefactor.

Before last Christmas, I heard form a woman whose late husband had been impressed by the idea. He couldn't afford to do anything like that while alive, but after he died, his widow took $1,000 of the insurance money she received and created her own version of "A Better Christmas."

Her version of the event was a bit different. She asked children to write and tell how they would make someone's holiday better. Those youngsters who wrote got a Wal-Mart gift card.

But I didn't hear from my original donor in 2007. Perhaps, I thought, he had found some needy family in his church that needed his money. I thought it would seem crass to call him and ask him whether he would fund "A Better Christmas" in 2007.

He did intend to do it, but due to a misunderstanding that would take too much space to explain here, the money never got to me.

When he discovered that while looking at his year-end financials, he called me and told me that even though Christmas was past, he'd still like to donate the money.

We had lunch and he said that perhaps with many people struggling with their heating bills this winter, $100 would help some needy families get through the winter.

I'm sure he's right, so, given that I've been asked to take charge of this again, here's what we're going to do:

Send me a letter, by regular mail, and finish the following sentence in 100 words or less:

"I could help someone I know make it through the winter, if I had $100 to give them for ..."

It could be a warm coat, a few gallons of heating oil or the cash for a doctor visit. The letter needs to include your name, address and daytime phone number, so that I can check with you if some of the details are unclear.

We'll print the letters, but will only use your name and the general area in which you live.

Then, after I read all the letters, I'll send out 20 money orders for $100 apiece.

Why am I in charge of making the decision? I'm not sure myself. For some reason, I have been judged to be trustworthy by this anonymous businessman, although before we began this in 2005, we had never met.

I'm not certain that, knowing me as well as I do, I would trust me with $2,000 without putting some tight controls on it first.

But this person does and for that I know many in the community are grateful.

He is grateful, too. He tells me he has kept the thank-you letters and when he comes home from work after a bad day, he reads them and they cheer him up.

I must admit the experience has changed me. Since 2005, I have done things that I wouldn't have done otherwise, but in keeping with his good example, I won't offer any details.

I will say that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I spoke to some mental-health professionals who told me the one of the best antidotes to fear and tension is to help someone else.

If you can think of someone to help with $100, please send your letters, by Tuesday, March 4, to Winter Help, c/o Bob Maginnis, The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, MD 21740.

Bob Maginnis is
Editorial page editor of
The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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