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Jerry Davich: ‘God sees us each as unique’

Brandy Sinclair (far right) her daughters marvel monetary gift as four families are presented with ] gifts Trinity Lutheran Church

Brandy Sinclair (far right) and her daughters marvel at the monetary gift as four families are presented with ] gifts at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hobart, Ind. Saturday December 22, 2012. The gifts are from an anonymous Hobart donor. From left are oldest daughter Jessica, 12; Kaylnn, 6; Taryn, 7; and Alina, 4, | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 26, 2013 6:11AM



Mary Manfred didn’t know what to say to the pack of strangers who showed up in her hospital room on Saturday morning.

We arrived at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart to deliver a gift from yet another stranger. It came in the form of an envelope, marked simply “Merry Christmas” in red and green ink, with three $100 bills tucked inside.

“Oh my,” she replied softly after opening the envelope. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what else to say.”

She thanked me, but her thanks were intended for a Hobart couple who wish to remain anonymous. For the fourth year in a row, they have reached deep into their bank account to give monetary Christmas gifts to Northwest Indiana residents in need.

And they’ve always insisted on doing it without any public recognition, asking me to serve as their elf to find deserving recipients in need. Mary Manfred is in need.

The 38-year-old mother of two teen girls suffers from end-stage kidney failure and is in need of a kidney transplant, I’m told, among other chronic health ailments.

“She is my best friend and she is very sick,” explained Anita Skomac of Hobart, who sat next to Mary’s bed. “Mary has worked for 20 years at the Marathon gas station on 3rd and Wisconsin, the former Lake George Marathon. She is Hobart’s sweetheart.”

Manfred leaned up in her hospital bed to shake my hand, telling me how grateful she was for the gift from a couple she will never meet. “Please tell them, OK?” she asked.

Mary, you just did, through this column.

Other recipients of the couple’s generosity responded with similar gratitude, as did recipients of similar cash gifts from two other donors who also wish to remain anonymous. Both also shared the Hobart couple’s philanthropic philosophy of unconditional giving, without any judgment, prejudice or instructions.

One donor is a Portage businessman who also contacted me last Christmas. The other donor is a Wanatah grandmother who did so in honor of her grandson who died.

“It’s in his honor that we want to give this gift,” she told me, choking back her emotions.

They simply wanted to make the holidays a little brighter for others who could use it. Period. No strings attached.

New recipients each year

But a few strings came attached to the many calls, emails, and personal pleas I received from readers after my earlier column regarding this unique arrangement.

One woman, who was given a small cash gift last Christmas, wrote me twice and called me twice in an effort to receive another cash gift this year. But I purposely pick new recipients each year, and the donors agreed with my thinking.

This year, I again compiled a lengthy list of needy and deserving candidates, including a single mother of two from Gary whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, an elderly man with disabilities from Hammond who can’t afford to put food on his table, and a DeMotte woman who simply has no money left after bills to buy any Christmas presents for her family. Each received $300 just before Christmas Eve.

To those of you who contacted me and did not receive a gift, or a response, I apologize. But I heard from too many people with too many requests, suggestions or nominations.

Although I was merely a middle-man elf in this arrangement, it’s always an honor to be allowed to deliver these gift envelopes of money, typically $100 bills. For this gift, I want to publicly thank the donors for blessing me (so to speak) with their Christmas spirit.

“This is what Christmas is truly about,” explained the Hobart couple, almost simultaneously, when I met with them. “It’s not about us. It’s about them.”

Again this year, they asked me to deliver a similar monetary gift to John Masson, the 41-year-old U.S. Army Ranger medic from Lake Station who stepped on an improvised explosive device on Oct. 16, 2010. Within seconds, he lost his left hand and both legs. He’s been rehabilitating his body, and his life, ever since.

I contacted Masson at his Fayetteville, N.C., home and I told him about the Hobart couple’s gift to him, his wife, Dustina, and their three kids.

“Please thank them profusely and let them know how much we appreciate their Christmas love,” he told me.

Masson also noted that he will be officially retired today and he starts college on Jan. 7. His family is building a new home and they hope to move in before next year.

Critics will have their say

On Saturday, I stopped at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hobart, where Pastor Gary Nagy helped me locate others who could use a financial boost this Christmas. There, four adults and several children waited for me in the church office.

I explained the arrangement, the donors’ stories, and gave them their envelopes. Then I stood back and watched them open their gift. They were all very appreciative.

“Thank you so much,” said Jaime Smith, whose children, Jacob, 10, and Katherine, 4, also received toys that I collected earlier. “This really made our Christmas.”

That’s all the donors need to hear. You can’t gauge a price on such a gesture.

The only downside to this arrangement with generous donors and struggling recipients is that I often hear from critics saying the “wrong people” were chosen for the gifts. I get this every year and I’m sure I’ll hear about it again, starting today.

Pastor Nagy, however, anticipated such a reaction.

He shared with me two biblical passages, Luke 7:36-48 and John 12:1-8, addressing it. Both are too lengthy to fit into this column, but you can look them up on your own.

Summed up, the relative point of Luke 7:36-48 is this, Nagy noted: “Those who grumble about others receiving (gifts) are full of themselves and have not left any room to receive anything graciously.”

As for John 12:1-8, Nagy summarized by noting, “Those who grumble about generosity or how a gift was spent, usually are selfish.”

Take that naysayers, and I’ll let you deal with birthday boy Jesus’ holy words, not my wholly ineptitude to do what’s right.

I’ll leave you today with a gesture from Nagy to those gift recipients. Before they left the church, he insisted that each one (and me and my family, too) take home a small clear-plastic snowflake. Why?

“Each snowflake is unique from every other snowflake,” Nagy explained. “God sees us each as unique — in terms of gifts, but also in terms of the troubles we face.”

“Also, the fact that each snowflake is pretty and reflects light reminds us that no matter how we feel about ourselves or our situation — lost in the crowd, nobody cares, or living in darkness because we are at the bottom of the snow pile — God always sees us as bright and beautiful because He cares for us, each on account of Jesus.”

How’s that for a Christmas Day sermon? I say let it snow, let it snow, let it snow today, at least metaphorically. Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone.

Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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