GREEN BAY — Christmas came early for 10-year-old Tora Schneider of Waupaca. On Dec. 14, her Christmas wish to help other children was granted. With the aid of her mother and stepfather, Tora delivered more than 50 wrapped presents to children at Love Life Ministry, located in the basement of a building adjacent to St. Joseph Church.
In early December, when Tora wrote her letter to Santa, her request was simple: “All I want for Christmas is for at least 20 kids in need” to receive gifts.
So taken aback were her mother, Lora Tankersley, and stepfather, Darick Tankersley, that they did all they could to make Tora’s wish come true. “I cried,” said Lora. “I was so happy. We have six kids and a foster daughter and for her to be the only one (to make the request), it made my day.”
It turned out to be a daunting request.
Originally, Tora wanted to help young patients at Children’s Hospital. But her desire to wrap gifts and present them to children was impossible due to hospital regulations. They began contacting homeless shelters around the region.
“We called around and couldn’t find anywhere,” said Darick. “There were like 200 places that denied us,” unless Tora gave unwrapped gifts or monetary donations. “But she wanted to be able pass out gifts and do it herself.”
They learned about Green Bay’s Love Life Ministry, which collects and distributes baby items to needy mothers, and contacted Sharon Zambrowicz, one of the ministry’s volunteer organizers.
“I just thought it was a great idea,” said Zambrowicz, a member of St. Joseph Parish. “I’m just glad we were able to accommodate her. I know the families that come here and I picked out the ones that I thought were most needy.”
Tora used money she had been saving to buy the gifts, according to her mother. “I also got some things donated from McDonald’s and my mom’s friends donated some stuff, too,” said Tora.
On a snowy Saturday morning, Tora, her mother and stepfather drove 70 miles from Waupaca to Green Bay to deliver gifts to five families with 20 children. Wearing a colorful elf hat with oversized ears and a necklace with flashing Christmas lights, Tora organized all of the gifts she had wrapped on a table. She used a black marker to write on each gift the intended recipient, such as boy or girl. Among the gifts purchased were electronic games, coloring books and crayons, candles for moms and coffee mugs for dads.
Minutes before families began arriving, Tora told The Compass why she decided to ask Santa Claus for a gift of giving.
“I just thought about all of the years past and how we always got stuff,” she said. “Everybody is always saying that it’s better to give than it is to receive.” So rather than ask for electronic games like her siblings, Tora chose to help others.
Jenny Mendoza, who brought her 2-year-old daughter, Honesty, to the Love Life Ministry, said Tora’s gesture was admirable and much appreciated. “It’s very nice, very special,” she said. “She has a very good heart.”
The reaction from families was heartwarming, said Tora’s stepfather.
“She was amazed (to be) getting thank-you cards from families,” he said. “Everybody told her thanks and hugged her. I don’t think she was expecting that. It was a great outcome, a great feeling. Now she wants to do it every year. ”