A family tragedy has spurred a local woman to take on a project that will bring happiness to dozens of hospitalized children.
Traci George had already reached more than two-thirds of her goal on Friday when she filled her car with 60 “Jared boxes” and drove down to Brenner’s Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem to deliver them.
A Jared Box is a plastic shoebox-sized container filled with small gifts, toys, games and fun activities and is delivered to young patients in hospitals, each box containing items selected for a child of specific age and gender. The project was named after a 5-year-old Pennsylvania boy who lost his battle with incurable brain stem cancer in 2000.
George had been looking for a way to celebrate her birthday since October and knew she wanted to help kids in some way.
“I was not blessed to give birth to a child, but I love children, and I’m always looking for a way to help them,” she said.
She had narrowed her search down to The Jared Box Project and Hope in a Suitcase, two programs that both benefit children but in different ways.
Then, on Dec. 22, when her nephew, Kesson Steven Haynes, died 2 years of age, she knew within a couple of days which one she would choose.
“He started his life at Brenner’s,” said George, “and that’s where he left to go be with Jesus,” so she knew helping other children going through difficult times at the same hospital was the path for her.
The young Jared for whom the project is named became noted for always bringing a backpack full of toys to all of his treatments and medical visits, sharing them with other children who did not have toys to play with. After his passing, his family wanted to continue what Jared had started and continue easing the pain of sick children by bringing them gifts.
George saw a similar spirit in Kesson. His ready smile and open heart brought joy to many. She recalled her sister, Angel Haynes, the boy’s mother, saying of Kesson, “He saved my life. The two-and-a-half years he was with me was a true blessing.”
“He made such a difference in other people’s lives, and he didn’t even know it. It’s just who he was,” said Mary Boyles, executive director of The Shepherd’s House, where George serves on the board of directors and where the project has been headquartered.
“He has blessed these children here,” said Boyles of the children residing at The Shepherd’s House. “The entire Haynes family came here before Christmas, and he was a little scared of Santa at first, but then he hogged him. He was spreading that smile. It was so infectious.”
In May, Kesson’s family was the ambassador family for March of Dimes March for Babies in Veterans Park, and he, his mother and George were central figures at the event.
George’s goal is to make 94 boxes, the combined ages of herself and her husband, Jimmy, who is also celebrating a birthday. She wanted to take 20 on the first run. The hospital had requested that she space them out. But 20 soon became 40 when an anonymous donor provided a cash gift to buy more toys. Johnson Granite, AES, Workforce Unlimited, Creative Design and Hampton Inn all offered their places of business as collection points for donated boxes. By the time she pulled out of the Shepherd’s House on Friday, her car was filled with 60 boxes.
“Brenner’s wasn’t even on the list of hospitals that participated in the Jared Project as of Wednesday,” she said. “But I had the boxes, I had the toys, and we were bringing them on Friday.” The approval call came on Wednesday.
“God is working through Kesson’s passing,” she said.
At the last minute, her mother-in-law suggested putting Visa gift cards or hospital cafeteria vouchers in some of the boxes, and she had to find out if that was okay. It is, but the hospital wants to know which boxes contain them.
“Good luck squeezing something else in those boxes,” said Susan Overcash, a frequent Shepherd’s House volunteer.
“I had to tape them shut,” said Sanderlin Hodges, who, as the Shepherd’s House’s designated “crafty” resident had taken charge of assembling and decorating the boxes with colorful stickers and pink tissue for girl’s boxes and blue for boys.
“Okay, I think there’s room for a card,” the women agreed.
Each box already contained inspirational quotes and/or Bible quotes, and many had little notes to the moms and caregivers of the children who would receive the boxes.
George plans to complete the project by March 1, and welcomes anyone who wants to participate to drop off a box or boxes at The Shepherd’s House or any of the businesses where they are being collected. Information on how to make the boxes and what they should contain can be found at www.thejaredbox.com.
“Kesson always came here to show love for the children who lived here,” said Boyles. “His favorite song was ‘Friends Forever,’ the Dionne Warwick song. His favorite part was ‘Keep Smiling. Keep Shining’.”
The legacy he left with the people who loved him — always smiling, always shining — will soon help other sick kids to keep smiling and keep shining.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.