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Gifts of Christmas present

At age 2, Taylor Downs is too young to understand how — or even why — the community has come to her aid as the kickoff story in this year's Light One Candle series.

Taylor was born without any bones in her left foot and left hand. Her hand is not really an issue at this point, her parents said. But the toddler's vestigial foot was amputated so she could wear a prosthesis to walk. And she has more surgeries to come.

Her mother, Misti Downs, said the community response generated by Taylor's story featured in the Dec. 7 Mail Tribune will help her daughter continue treatment at Seattle Children's Hospital.

"We had a couple, and a friend of theirs, use their frequent-flier miles to pay for two of our trips. That's huge. We are truly grateful," said Misti Downs.

In addition to the airline miles, community members also sent $1,487 in cash to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Taylor's name.

The money will be used to offset travel expenses such as hotel rooms, meals out and other costs, she said.

Another gift has been just as important. Misti Downs had said she wanted to hear from other mothers, or other children, who had experience dealing with some of the challenges her daughter will face.

In came an e-mail from Kaydee Kerr. Her language arts teacher had given her a copy of the article about Taylor. The 14-year-old Eagle Point middle-schooler said she could relate.

"My right arm is stopped at the elbow, I was born with only half," Kaydee said. "I also have to use a prosthetic leg to walk. I would love to get in contact with Taylor's family and spend some time with them."

Hearing from the happy, well-adjusted volleyball star was one of the best gifts a mom could get, Misti Downs said.

"What a sweet, sweet girl. It's inspiring to see what the future holds for Taylor," she said.

Other candidates featured in the 15-day Light One Candle series also received gifts and donations from community members in a giving spirit this holiday season.

A family of five who has a special-needs 2-year-old daughter received $1,560 in cash "and a carload of toys," said Kathy Morgan of St. Vincent de Paul.

Chelsea, the young girl who was abused by her father and neglected by her mother, received a new bike and money to complete at least half a year of therapy, said Marlene Mish, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center.

"In fact, we got several bikes. About six. Chelsea doesn't know. She'll find out on Christmas," Mish said.

The extra bikes will be donated to other children at the center today, she said.

Support for a young mother and her three children fleeing an abusive situation "will certainly be an imprint in this family's life," said Emily Canete, program administrator for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County.

"We live in a wonderful community," Canete said.

The family received couches, mattresses, love seats, twin beds, toddler beds, cribs, strollers, clothes for the mom and girls, housing supplies, small kitchen appliances and a television, she said.

Victoria, a young woman fleeing a bad marriage, and Carla and her kids, in a similar predicament, got help through the community and Dunn House shelter. Furnishings, dishes, clothes, toys and art supplies poured in, said Gerry Sea of Dunn House.

"People were really generous and concerned," said Sea.

A single mom with twin toddlers seeking a new start for her children and herself was sponsored by Healthy Start. Within a day of publication of her story, a gentleman arrived at the non-profit's offices with three $200 gift cards for groceries. He also cut a check for $1,000 to benefit all the Healthy Start families, said Donna King.

"Many families received that help from his generous spirit," said King.

In addition to the anonymous donor, a club of e-mailers put together Wal-Mart gift cards for household items.

Grace, a 6-year-old, donated her beloved Dora the Explorer castle and furniture, a DVD and books to the toddlers.

"She was a little sad to see them go, but knew how much fun the (twins) would have with all of it," said King.

The mother was overwhelmed by the generosity of the community and can't wait to see the faces of her children when they wake up today and see their new toys and clothes.

Jeremy, a young man who was injured and rendered a quadriplegic, is ready to re-enter the workforce after receiving $2,770 from community members in support of the Mobility to Employment program.

"He will be on his way to work in the very near future," said Glory Cooper, executive director of Mobility Unlimited.

A few Candle candidates did not receive any gifts from the community. At least not yet.

A blended family who suffered the loss of a child through child abuse has yet to receive any gifts or goods, said Ally Kimberling of the Maslow Project.

"I had one response the first weekend but nothing ended up coming from it, and I haven't heard anything since," she said.

Living Opportunities sponsored a woman who suffered a brain injury who was seeking sponsorship to Studio Sfumato. She didn't receive any money for her artistic endeavors. Three autistic teenage boys residing at a Living Opportunities group home and in need of clothes and toys also didn't receive anything.

Several calls came in inquiring about supporting Jenny at Studio Sfumato, but nothing has come of the calls. At least not yet, said Jim Gochenour, Living Opportunities development director.

But the non-profit's third candidate, the gregarious Dorothy, who was the social heartbeat of her apartment complex and needed a new bed and bedding, "was a totally different story," said Gochenour.

Mattresses, box springs and "all kinds of bedding" came flooding in from the community, he said.

"She also got $250 in cash for a shopping spree, including a $100 donation from Answer Page," Gochenour said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Taylor Downs, 2, born with multiple birth defects received money and airline miles from a generous community which will help her get to Seattle Childrenís hospital as a result of the Mail Tribune light one candle series. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch