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'Candle' burns bright

Community doesn't hesitate accepting role of Secret Santa for those in need

JoAnne Worthen will have warm toes this Christmas ' and so will all the other women at the Medford Gospel Mission's shelter.

I asked for slippers and look what happened, Worthen said on Christmas Eve, surrounded by dozens of pairs of cozy, plush footwear. Rogue Valley residents gave the women's shelter nearly 200 pairs of slippers and dozens of pajama sets after reading about Worthen in the Dec. 18 installment of the 's annual Light One Candle series.

We probably had 30 people respond that same day, said shelter manager Janet Farrington. When people know about a need, they want to help.

Farrington said all those slippers will find homes soon enough. The shelter typically houses at least two dozen women trying to get their lives in order, and many come to the shelter with nothing.

We're going to be able to give the gals slippers when they check in for months, she said.

Worthen, 53, has lived at the shelter since October, when she decided to give up drugs and alcohol. She asked for slippers because circulation problems from diabetes make her feet cold. Regular shoes are hard to wear because her feet swell.

I was touched how people responded to that one little request, she said. It helped me and a lot of the other girls.

Social service agencies across Jackson County reported equally generous responses for Light One Candle stories about their clients. A plea for computers for middle school-aged boys yielded five machines for Kids Unlimited. A story about a 17-year-old boy hoping to attend college and live independently brought in toasters, plates, pots and pans, &

36;700 in cash donations and &

36;500 in gift certificates.

One family sent four &

36;25 gift cards instead of buying gifts for each other, said Pat Carter, who manages the Independent Living Program at Community Works. — couple of men came in and gave money and said, 'Put us on your resource list for the next time something comes up that you need.'

Others came in and said, 'We've got kids in college and we know what it takes to put a kid through school. Tell us what you need.'

Carter said Rogue Valley residents' generosity lifts her spirits when her clients' troubles bring her down.

I see a lot of bad things in my work, she said. Bad things happening to these kids. There are days when it's so bad I don't want to do it anymore. When people reach out and give, it's wonderful.

She said donations of cash and gift items allowed her to make some of the first happy Christmas memories many children have had. Twenty-five dollars' worth of art supplies, for example, looked like a huge gift for several children.

That &

36;25 was worth a million dollars for the look on their faces, she said.

Dozens of people responded to the plight of a 15-year-old girl looking for personal grooming supplies ' and a foster parent. At least half a dozen people have expressed interest in giving her a home, said Penny Esser of the Department of Human Services.

Her situation just touched people's hearts, Esser said. People called and said, 'What else does she need? Are there needs for other children?'

I'd made up some (gift) lists, she said, and people would come in with every single thing on that list, whether it was gloves, or slippers, or drawing pads.

People responding to stories of need also learned more about the social service agencies that provide help.

They come in and they see what the place is all about, said Christina Hill of the Children's Advocacy Center. This place sells itself.

The center asked for basic hygiene supplies for teen girls who have been victims of sexual abuse. Readers responded with all kinds of toiletries, shampoos, body lotions and personal journals.

We were able to put together a lot of different gift bags, Hill said.

These things let them feel good about themselves. They can pamper themselves. A lot of people don't know how to take care of themselves. They've been too busy taking care of everybody else.

One girl was overwhelmed because she got scented shampoo, she said. You tend to take that for granted until you find somebody who's never had any.

JoAnne Worthen?s request for a pair of warm slippers in the Mail Tribune?s ?Light One Candle? series brought nearly 200 pairs of new and used slippers to the Medford Gospel Mission?s women?s shelter. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven