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A gift for the givers

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneKathy Greager unloads toys out of a Toyota Highlander she was gifted on Christmas at New Song Church in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneKathy Greager unloads toys out of a Toyota Highlander she was gifted on Christmas at New Song Church in Medford.
An anonymous donor made Christmas brighter for founder of a local toy charity

After two decades of providing Christmas and birthday gifts to low-income children in Southern Oregon via her charity, Lightly Loved Toys, Medford resident Kathy Greager was treated to a gently used surprise of her own this year.

Just before Dec. 25, the Christmas spirit smiled down on the Medford mother of three as she was headed into the thick of her annual toy deliveries. Daniel and Brenda Mickelson, the pastor of New Song Church and his wife, picked up Greager and her husband, Bryan, for a surprise.

The couple were taken to Lithia Honda, where sales fleet manager Billy Day informed them that a 2017 Toyota Highlander sporting a large bow was their very own.

A tearful Greager covered her face in a video posted to social media.

Greager served 932 kids this year during the holidays — with “just enough donations” — and she made it all happen with her old van, which she was shocked hadn’t rattled itself apart.

Lightly Loved Toys began when Greager’s sons and daughter were small and she wanted to share, even when things were tight, with families in need. The spirit of Lightly Loved Toys was to repurpose gently used toys — and some new ones — for birthdays and Christmas gifts to those in need.

Greager said she never imaged receiving a nearly new vehicle after barely managing to keep a handful of old and ailing vehicles on the road in recent years. Still in disbelief more than a week later, Greager said it felt surreal to have traded the constant repair bills from her ailing 2004 Chevy Astro van for a pristine SUV.

“I had no idea what was going to happen when Pastor called. He said, ‘You’re about to get this huge blessing.’ I was thinking, ‘OK, paid-for dinner at Olive Garden?’ He said he was going to come pick us up, and to have our IDs and proof of insurance with us,” Greager said.

“It was a little more suspicious when he said that, but I still had absolutely no idea until we pulled into Lithia Honda. Suddenly we were standing next to a beautiful Highlander with this big ol’ bow on it, and I started crying.”

While things are usually pretty tight for her family, Greager said they managed to purchase their long-time rental home in west Medford this past year — only to have the heating system go out immediately after closing.

In addition to the 2004 van, Bryan Greager’s car is an even older Chevy Malibu. The couple joked that they took turns fixing their old cars and figured they’d have to choose between reliable transportation and staying warm this winter.

“It’s been a hard year for everyone, but also just a lot of obstacles this past year for our family. Last spring, when we first found out our house was getting sold, I pulled up to the church in the van and it started steaming and wouldn’t go anymore. I thought it was done for and it felt like the final straw,” she recalled.

“It was in pieces in my driveway, and we were able to keep it going, but I remember daydreaming that if I was able to afford it and I was able to go buy any car I wanted, a Highlander in this exact color of this one was the top of my list, but I never told anybody.”

Day, the salesman at Lithia Honda, said it was heartwarming to be part of the surprise for the Greagers.

“They were completely, definitely, totally overwhelmed. It was such a blessing to be part of. The buyer wanted to be completely anonymous, and they wanted the credit to go to God. It kind of makes you want to cry to see someone, who has given every part of themselves even though they’re struggling in their own lives. Somebody saw that and recognized it and wanted to do something nice.”

Day said lifetime oil changes were included in the donation to keep the car maintained.

An added boost for the family came when another donor offered $2,000 toward the repair of their ailing heater, leaving the family with a reliable vehicle and a warm house for the holidays.

Mickelson said it was exciting to be part of the surprise after watching Greager’s devotion over the years to Lightly Loved Toys.

“Kathy is wonderful. One hundred percent of anything donated goes to the kids and the ministry. There are no more deserving people and, when they’ve worked so hard, to see it all come back on them and to see them have that same feeling in their hearts that they’ve brought to thousands of people over the years is hard to describe,” Mickelson said.

“It was really a great joy for my wife and I to be part of seeing them receive such a well-deserved blessing.”

Greager said the new rig would help with her fledgling tie-dye business, which helps support her family and fill in the gaps when demand exceeds the donations to her toy program. Seat warmers and a good heater were much appreciated as she delivered the final rounds of toys this year, and for after-Christmas clearance shopping, when she stocks up on low-priced toys for the coming year.

“I can’t describe how much of a blessing this was for us. It feels so nice just to be driving around in something so nice. I appreciate it with every fiber of my being, but I can’t even begin to think of why anybody would want to do anything like that for me,” Greager said.

“It’s fun to speculate, but the fact is whoever it was didn’t want us to know, so I don’t want to keep pushing or trying to ‘Sherlock Holmes’ it too much. I want to respect their wishes … but I hope whoever it is knows that it’s just such a tremendous blessing in our lives.”

For more about Lightly Loved Toys, see the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/santaliveshere.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.