COVINGTON, Ky. — As I get older, I make more room for heartache during the holidays because of the growing number of friends and family members who are no longer here to celebrate.
That list is even longer and sadder this year because my mother-in-law, Terry West, passed away suddenly in May.
Fortunately for everyone who knew and loved Terry, her spirit lives on, in even more than the usual ways, because of the imprint she left on the heart of Sandi Stonebraker. Sandi is the owner of Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe in Covington.
A Christmas tree on the shop’s front porch sparkles with the legacy of Terry’s kindness – her effort last year to make it a “giving tree” to benefit kids staying at the Welcome House homeless shelter for women and children a few blocks away.
Terry worked with Sandi and with Kelly Rose, the director of marketing and development at Welcome House, to make the giving tree happen last year. And Sandi, a dear friend of Terry’s, was eager to bring it back this year.
“It was such a wonderful experience,” Sandi told me. “And it’s a matter of carrying on Terry’s legacy and because I believe it’s important that the little ones wake up on Christmas morning with toys.”
Here’s how Sandi explained it:
“On the giving tree are little tags with a picture on the front and the price on the back,” she said. “The picture on the front depicts the different items that I sell in my store. So someone would approach the giving tree, grab a tag, bring it to me and say, ‘I would like to donate this gift to a child. And I ring up the amount.”
After dozens of puppets, board games and other toys are purchased for donation and collected, Kelly and her team stop by Stoney’s for all of it.
“When I came to pick up the toys, it was just a carload filled with Sandi’s amazing, wonderful toys,” Kelly said of last year’s results. “At Welcome House, we are so grateful to everyone who supports our mission and our agency.”
‘She really rallied this community’
Terry’s support for Welcome House extended beyond the holidays.
Not long after she moved to Covington in late 2019, she saw a notice online that the shelter needed meals to be donated for the families there.
She called Welcome House and talked with Kelly. Terry explained that she had experience as a caterer and offered to help. Soon, she was making home-cooked meals for as many as 40 women and children and delivering them to the Welcome House shelter each week.
Terry cared deeply about those meals. I remember many conversations about how she wanted to make something healthy yet delicious that both the moms and kids would love. She planned special menus for Valentine’s Day and Halloween. She was proud to hear that her dinners were the favorites each week. And she recruited friends and neighbors in Covington to help make desserts and contribute money and ingredients to the effort.
“Because Terry and I were essentially neighbors, we just started working so close with one another,” Kelly said. “She really rallied this community to get those meals to our women and kids.”
That type of kindness is contagious. It spread throughout the community and even made Terry want to do more.
The giving tree provided that opportunity last year. And, thanks to Sandi and Kelly, the kindness continues this December.
“I can’t imagine what it would ever be like to wake up without a Christmas. And at Welcome House, we really, really try to make sure that every child we serve gets a toy – or toys even,” Kelly said. “That’s our goal, every holiday season, every year, is to make sure that we’re really fulfilling those needs for the kids that we serve.”
It’s hard for me to imagine waking up to this Christmas without Terry. But my aching heart feels a little better every time I see the giving tree on the porch at Stoney’s and think about how her kindness lives on.
More information about the giving tree is available on the Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe Facebook page. Gifts can be purchased as donations for children at Welcome House through Dec. 20, 2021.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on problems we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.