Two years ago, Janelle Haywood was in her final semester at college while also working and supporting her two children.
Her 4-year-old son complained regularly of excruciating stomach pains.
“As a parent, I knew something was wrong,” Haywood said.
She took him from doctor to doctor.
“I had one specialist tell me my son was crying and doing all this for attention. I was losing my job because I had to miss so much work; day care wouldn’t take my son because they thought something was wrong.”
Finally, she took her son to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., where he was diagnosed with stomach migraines and a non-functioning left kidney.
Medical bills piled up. She used her credit cards to pay for daily living expenses, gas to the hospital and hotel stays while her son was in the hospital. And, not long after her son’s diagnosis, her 14-year-old daughter faced surgery to have a lymph node removed.
It was a bleak time, and Haywood turned to Share the Season for help.
Two years later, she has finished school and relocated to Dallas with a job. Her son, London, now 5, received surgery and is healthy and pain free.
Share the Season, she said, “came at the right time and helped me catch up,” Haywood said.
The program — a joint project of the Salvation Army, Wichita Community Foundation and The Eagle — offers one-time aid to people affected by unexpected hardships. It will begin taking applications for assistance online Sunday and at the Salvation Army headquarters Monday.
Beginning Thanksgiving Day, The Eagle will feature a daily story of someone in need and tell how readers can help. Most of those featured will remain anonymous; their need will be verified by the Salvation Army.
Last year, more than 900 donors gave more than $216,000 to help 251 families in need. Their efforts were a grassroots approach in which the majority of donors sent what they could — $5, $10 or $25 — while some donors contributed $5,000 to $10,000.
The average recipient receives help toward paying mortgage, utility or medical bills. Payments are made directly to creditors.
“Share the Season helps people who typically don’t find assistance in other places,” said Shelly Chenoweth Prichard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation. “They’ve gone through bad luck. A child gets sick or somebody loses a job.
“Each year, the applications increase because more people are in need. Share the Season is that extra boost people can apply for to help them when they run on hard times.”
In the 12 years Share the Season has been in existence, it has raised more than $2 million.
The original concept for the program began in 1999 when local philanthropist Mary Lynn Oliver told Wichita Community Foundation leaders about a program in Santa Fe, N.M., called “The Empty Stocking Fund,” which then served as the prototype for Share the Season.
In the first several years, the Wichita Community Foundation provided seed money to help the campaign. In more recent years, contributions have continued to pour in after the holiday season. Some of that money has been used to help people with unexpected needs at other times of the year. Since Jan. 3, Share the Season has helped 85 families, or 281 people.
For the first time this year, the program sent letters in October to donors who have consistently given in the past. Within two weeks, more than $24,000 was raised to jump-start this year’s campaign. That, combined with nearly $14,000 in donations remaining from last year, gives the program $37,000 as it heads into the holiday season.
Haywood said she heard about Share the Season from a friend.
“It took care of some major bills that were pushed behind because of me having to pay co-pays and surgery bills,” she said.