On December 23, 2008, The Charlotte Observer published a feature on the front page of Section B entitled “Just Call Her Katie Claus” by a staff reporter named Jim Morrill who had been on hand the previous day to witness Katie’s delivery of her load of presents to Levine Children’s Hospital and to talk with her about her work. The story was picked up by the AP, and by the next day, newspaper readers all over North Carolina were reading about Katie. A surge of website activity followed along with a late flurry of donations that continued well into the new year. In fact, Katie was still receiving donations as late as mid-March of this year, and I suppose it’s possible that there might yet be donations to come in as a result of the efforts of 2008.
But be that as it may, Katie is looking ahead. Early in the year she announced to Elizabeth and me that her fundraising goal for 2009 was $8,000 – approximately three times the amount that she raised in 2008, and once again she began socking away any money that came her way against the time that she would again go shopping for Christmas presents for Katie’s Kidz.
Then out of the blue, on February 2, we were contacted by a lady named Shannon Hitchcock, a freelance writer from Tampa, Florida, who specializes in true stories for and about children. While visiting relatives in North Carolina during the Christmas holidays, she’d read the article about Katie in The Charlotte Observer, and she wanted our permission to do an article of her own about Katie for possible publication in the “Gallant Kids” section ofHighlights for Children, the well-known children’s magazine that regularly makes its way into over two million homes and offices across the country. She explained that the magazine would require a signed release form from us and a couple of pictures of Katie that could be used in the article, but otherwise she seemed very confident that her proposed article would be well received. Well needless to say, we quickly supplied the release and the additional photos, but being one who has had some experience with the disappointments that often accompany attempts to write for money, I then promptly dismissed this effort as good idea that would likely come to nothing – a very long shot at best, like the proverbial “message in a bottle”. Then a few weeks later, I entered Katie’s story into the Kohl’s Kids Who Care Scholarship Program, which provides scholarship money to youngsters who take part in activities that help people and/or improve a community. Even though I felt that Katie deserved to win, I considered this to be another of those well-intentioned long shots. I completed the on-line form, hit enter, and immediately forgot about it.
Besides, we had other issues to deal with – like how to triple our fundraising and if that actually happened, how to deal with the purchase and handling of $8,000 worth of presents. Doing a third of that amount had kept us busy night and day for most of a month and had maxed out our storage and transport capability. We clearly would have to have help – “helper elves” as Katie referred to them. So, on April 7th, we held a meeting to formulate and organize our wants and needs with the hope that we might then be able to convert them into some sort of a plan of action. Our needs covered a wide range of areas. Under “Logistics” we needed purchasing assistance, storage space, manpower for sorting, labeling and packing gifts, and additional transportation capacity. Under “Promotional Materials” we needed a logo, business cards, T-shirts, posters, and so on. Under “Communication/Advertising” we needed a letter from Katie for an e-mail/direct mail campaign, significant updating of her website, and a Pay-Pal account among other things. Under the heading of “Fundraising Initiatives” we listed various possibilities other than simply asking for money – including selling Katie’s Kidz items on the internet through her website, holding raffles and distributing literature at gatherings such as craft shows and church functions, and offering a list of “services” to the community that Katie (with our help) would perform during her summer vacation. That list of services would include such things as feeding and watering pets during the owner’s absence, watering plants, collecting mail and newspapers, and doing drive-by security checks of homes.
During our meeting we also identified a need for more information from Levine, information about the presents themselves – which gifts worked particularly well and which ones didn’t, what groups or needs were being overlooked and how we could include them, and what about the kids who had actually received gifts. What did they say? How did they act? What was it like on Christmas morning? It was amazing how often we had been asked those sorts of questions by contributors, and we had only been able to respond by explaining that Katie did not actually distribute the presents. Clearly we needed a better answer than that. We needed some actual or anecdotal accounts of gift reception that we could share with contributors to give them a feel for the good that was being done and the happiness that was being generated through their donations. And finally, under the topic of “Future Growth of Katie’s Kidz” we recognized the need for official status as a “non-profit” organization and increased access to mass media, including TV.
Our list of needs went on and on, eventually covering about six pages, and even then we knew that it was only a partial list; however, we felt sure that we had identified most of the major areas and from those we were able to put together a list of several action items for immediate attention. Katie asked for an appointment with the senior pastor of our church, and on April 15, we met with Dr. Terry Moore to discuss our need for storage space and additional manpower to help with the gifts. He was visibly impressed with Katie’s commitment to her ministry and very supportive of her efforts. He agreed to arrange storage space for her during the days leading up to Christmas and he suggested possibly calling on the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of the church for assistance as well as one or more of the children’s Sunday School classes. He also mentioned several contacts he had outside the church that would possibly be willing to help with fundraising and other activities.
We came away from our meeting with Dr. Moore feeling very encouraged and hopeful, and then on May 1, Katie had a booth at the Weddington UMC Spring Ladies Night Out – a combination dinner, inspirational lecture, and craft show for the ladies of the community. She passed out flyers describing the vacation services she would be offering during the summer. She also held a raffle and accepted donations. Her booth was one of the most attractive and active ones in the entire show, and she had a great time telling dozens of people about her kids while bringing in almost a hundred dollars. That effort pushed her year-to-date total over $1,000, and it seemed to confirm our idea that there was a place for her at gatherings of that type. We immediately set about to get Katie registered in other craft shows as well as to work on ideas for a logo and to plan the updating of the website. Christmas was still a long way off, but so was the $8,000 mark. Nevertheless, we were moving and felt that we were making some progress in several key areas.
It is said that “miracles appear in the strangest of places”, and I believe that I was actually in the bathroom at the particular moment on May 6 when Elizabeth came running in to announce that she had just picked up a message from Shannon Hitchcock – that her article about Katie and her kids had been approved by the editors of Highlights and that it was being recommended for purchase. Elizabeth and Katie were jubilant, but I was stunned. Dumbfounded may be a better choice of words. In either case, it certainly appears that the most widely circulated children’s magazine in the country will be carrying an article about Katie’s Kidz in an issue to be published toward the end of this year. Then, about the time I was getting comfortable with the fact that Katie’s story will be in Highlights, on May 20, Katie received a letter from Kohl’s Department Stores informing her that her story had won at the store level and was being considered at the regional level. The potential publicity from these two events is a boost that we could previously have only dreamed about, but it suddenly has placed on our shoulders the responsibility of quickly positioning Katie’s Kidz in the best possible place to take advantage of the lift when it comes.
CHRISTMAS 2009 UPDATE
Speaking of lifts, we actually got several, although not from the places listed above. Katie’s story didn’t win at the regional level. The winner had been involved in her project for several years, and thus was able to reach more people than Katie in just her second year. Who knows, we may try that competition again a bit later on. And the Highlights article, that we were so looking forward to, couldn’t be scheduled in 2009 and had to be put off until 2010. Katie, however, took all of this in stride, as she and her helpers went on to raise over eleven thousand, six-hundred dollars (over 4 times the amount of 2008), making it possible for her to deliver presents to six area hospitals, rather than the three or four that had been earlier goals.
For the record, she took her information booth to four art and crafts shows, as well as to the BSA Troop 20 Annual Pancake Breakfast at Wesley Chapel Fire Department. She also gave a presentation and spent most of an afternoon with a third grade class at Long Creek Elementary School in Huntersville. In addition, she made presentations to four church groups, with the highlight coming at Matthews UMC where she spoke to a group of over two hundred teenagers who listened attentively to her 40 minute presentation, then gave her a standing ovation followed by a check for almost five hundred dollars.
In among these activities, Katie was interviewed numerous times by newspaper reporters resulting in articles in “The Enquirer-Journal” (Monroe), the “Independent Tribune” (Cabarrus County), the “Lake Norman Citizen” (Mooresville), “The Daily Courier” (Forest City), “The Gaston Gazette” (Gastonia), and two outstanding articles by David Perlmutt in “The Charlotte Observer”. In addition, there was a wonderful feature about Katie, with several pictures, in the January 2010 issue of the “Tega Cay Compass”. You may find the text of these articles on this website under “In the News”.
There’s a good chance that you may have heard Katie on the radio. She was a guest on WIXE 1190 AM’s Talk of the Town program (Monroe), WCAB 590 AM’s Rutherford County Live with Jim Bishop (Rutherfordton), and at lest twice on New Life 91.9 FM, our Charlotte area Christian radio station. Local TV coverage, which we’d only dreamed of before, came in the form of segments on News 14 Carolina, WSOC TV Channel 9, and WCNC TV News Channel 36. In addition, WLOS TV Channel 13 from Asheville did an incredibly warm and beautiful “person of the week” feature on Katie and her Kidz that aired on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas Day.
Of course fundraising is only one part of the job. It takes more than a bit of shopping to buy over 2000 Christmas presents (or stated another way, to spend $11,000) – especially when you’re shopping sales, negotiating store discounts, and stopping continually to tell one customer or store employee after another exactly why you’re purchasing 180 art sets or 7 dozen boxes of crayons, 15 i-Pods, 50 gift cards, 5 dozen decks of playing cards, or all the Monopoly games in the store. It took every minute we could find in a whole week, and we followed all that shopping up with a marathon labeling, sorting, and packing for the hospitals day. Thank the Lord, we had help on that magic Saturday – about 20 elves came out to our makeshift North Pole toy shop in the Weddington UMC Fellowship Hall. Heck, I didn’t even know the names of half the people who showed up to work – they just heard about what we were doing and decided to join in. Go figure. They ranged in age from around 7 to almost 70, and Santa himself never assembled a harder working or more beautiful group of helpers. And the thought that went through my mind again and again during that watershed event was that while no one in the room would receive even one of the hundreds of gifts they would touch that day, it would nevertheless be the highlight of their Christmas this year, and perhaps for years to come. With a smile on every face, Christmas carols playing in the background, and Katie running back and forth between tables and boxes checking on everything, it was as if we were being treated to a little glimpse of Heaven, where also, they say we’ll be led by a child.
Sunday passed in the blink of an eye, and on Monday morning, Dec. 21st., we delivered a packed van-load of presents to Mission Children’s Hospital in Asheville, where there was 8 to 10 inches of snow still on the ground. Then Tuesday morning, with the temperature far below freezing, we delivered a double van load of gifts to Hemby Children’s Hospital at the Presbyterian complex in Charlotte. Tuesday afternoon it was a pick-up truck and a van load to Katie’s “home hospital”, Levine, where she was greeted by camera crews from three Charlotte TV stations as well as the Carolinas Medical Center’s own video team, who by the way, put together an absolutely first rate Katie’s Kidz piece that is currently being played on their own internal TV network. On Wednesday we delivered to the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital over in Concord, where Katie got to work with her first-ever, female Santa Claus, and to CMC Union, better known as the Monroe Hospital. And then, on the morning of Christmas Eve, on our way to celebrate Christmas with my family in Rutherford County, we stopped by and left several cartons of gifts at Cleveland Regional Hospital in Shelby.
Each of the activities recounted above – craft shows, presentations at churches, shopping, packing, and delivering presents – involved meeting people, sometimes dozens of people, and you can’t share a story with that many people without hearing some of theirs. And we did hear them – lots of them, ranging from the heart-breaking to the up-lifting. We heard of a mother who dropped everything and raced to the hospital to which her injured teenage son had been airlifted. His condition was critical, and she stayed by his bed day and night. And for three days, she didn’t even have the use of a comb or toothbrush. The hospital, you see, had no room in the budget for complimentary personal hygiene items. Then there was the mother we met with the beautiful little Down’s Syndrome baby girl who, on the day of the baby’s open heart surgery – literally as the infant was being wheeled into the operating room – received a phone call advising that her employment had been terminated and that she no longer had medical insurance coverage. But, thank Goodness, the stories weren’t all tearjerkers.
For instance, we learned about a little blind fellow, 21 months old, and how he had spent 15 of his 21 months in the hospital, and of how his child life specialist hunted through a box of presents from Katie’s Kidz and found him an activity ball with various shaped appendages that each produce a different sound when squeezed – features of great importance to a child lacking sight. Well, he took to it immediately, and they say he loves it. And there was the story of a spunky eighth grader with Hodgkins lymphoma who was in the hospital for a stem cell transplant – an effort to rebuild his bone marrow which had been destroyed by chemo-therapy. During a two week period, part of which he was too sick to get out of bed, and often in severe back pain, he walked a marathon – 26.2 miles in the hospital – with his IV pole beside him every step of the way. Along with some gift cards, he received a football and a basketball from Katie’s Kidz, and it is my prayer that he wears both of them out.
There were other stories – like a third grade class that raised almost $300 for Katie’s Kidz, and another eight year old kid who heard Katie’s story and began his own ministry – to provide Christmas gifts for children in foster care, and this totally charming nine year old girl who was so inspired by Katie’s story that she began a drive to collect personal toiletry products for people who suddenly find themselves “living” at a hospital with sick loved ones. Yes indeed, we heard lots of stories. Perhaps the best one of all was about a young US soldier in Iraq who came across Katie’s fan page on Facebook and had his Mom back home to send in a hundred dollar donation from his savings account. Or then again, maybe the best was the one about a middle-aged school teacher who happened to read a newspaper article about an eight year old girl named Katie who received and then responded to a call to help sick children; of how that teacher was so moved by the article that she chose to revisit her own call to help kids, from many years ago – a call she had never answered but had never been able to put completely out of her mind; and of how she is now in the process of converting her family’s farm, which she inherited, into a Christian summer camp.
Well, so much for Christmas 2009. Now, you may be wondering where we go from here. Will she do it again in 2010? When does the fund-raising start? What’s her new goal? Well, the word from Katie is an unflinching YES! As for when the new season of fund-raising will start, Katie’s season is even longer than NASCAR’s. Last Sunday (January 9th), she made presentations before two groups at Huntersville Presbyterian Church, including the combined adult Sunday School classes – approximately 200 strong – to kick off the 2010 campaign. And she is already scheduled to speak during the next few weeks to a Rotary Club, two United Methodist Women’s circles and another church. When Elizabeth asked Katie if she had set a goal for 2010 yet, she answered in typical Katie fashion, “No; not yet. Jesus and I are still discussing it.” But then, just a couple of days ago, she stopped by my chair and announced, with truckloads of blessed assurance, “Daddy, I’m going to Chapel Hill and Duke this year.” Even as bright as she is, I’m sure Katie has no real idea how to get to Duke or Chapel Hill, but she knows they have sick kids there, and that’s enough for her. Come December, I’ll show her where they are. Dean Greene (January 14, 2010)b