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AURORA, COLO.: Paying tribute to the fallen
"They knock on your door, knowing they are creating the worst day of your life," says Michael Klasno, remembering the moment he learned that his only child, Army National Guard Sgt. Rhys Klasno, 20, had been killed in Iraq.
The two military officers who appeared on Klasno's Moreno Valley, Calif., front stoop were faced with the grim task of making a "casualty assistance call," a job typically carried out by officers stationed nearby.
In 2004, Marine Corps Maj. Steve Beck of Aurora, Colo., became one of those notifiers, making his first call near Denver. With each visit, Beck felt impelled to do more. Noticing that some families received their loved ones' final commendations by mail, he decided to honor the troops by holding a black-tie ceremony for their families, to present them with framed sets of their loved ones' medals and awards.
For Make A Difference Day, Beck, now a lieutenant colonel, held a "Remembering the Brave" ceremony in San Diego, bringing in 22 families from five states. That night, parents and widows of the fallen gathered at a hotel to accept the vestiges of their loved ones' military service and share fellowship with troops who had served alongside their soldiers, sailors and Marines.
Randy Freeman, father of Army Capt. Brian Freeman, killed in Karbala in 2007, received a prized possession at the event: an Iraqi ballot. "The war may have been about oil, it may have been about weapons of mass destruction -- who knows? This, though, is the democratic process," he says of the ballot. "This is what Brian died for."
The event cost roughly $100,000, which Beck raised mainly by word of mouth. He says it's the least he can do for his brothers in arms: "I may have carried them to their final resting place, but they carry me every day."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to Remembering the Brave Foundation.
MARINE CITY, MICH.: Recipe for responsibility
For 14 years, Bill Westerhof's students at Belle River Elementary School in Marine City, Mich., have started the school year by cooking up a plan for Make A Difference Day. Inspired by the recent presidential election, the class decided to solicit favorite recipes from each of the nation's 50 governors. The students wanted to bind the recipes into The Governors' Cookbook and sell them for charity. They composed letters to the governors, and soon recipes started pouring in.
Among the kids' favorites? California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his recipe for an Austrian dessert, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who sent instructions for potato chip-topped halibut along with a letter telling the kids to "keep up the hard work."
Meanwhile, the class created fliers announcing an Oct. 25 collection and refundable bottle drive to help the local food pantry. On Make A Difference Day, the kids worked in shifts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., raising $1,561.26 in cash for the pantry and four other local charities.
Monica Ceckowski, director of a local humane society, says her organization has come to depend on Westerhof's class. The shelter doesn't have a staff veterinarian, so the contributions help pay for animal care: "Every year, his class comes through."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to Downriver Helping Hands, Marine City, Mich.
NATIONALLY: Renters rally for good
Across the country, AvalonBay Communities, which manages 178 apartment complexes in 10 states and Washington, D.C., rallied 3,200 staff members and residents in 41 cities into Make A Difference Day action. In Alexandria, Va., 75 volunteers winterized the homes of needy seniors. In San Diego, 55 workers painted an elementary school and donated $1,700 for musical instruments. In Stamford, Conn., five Avalon communities raised money for a paralyzed resident.
Caring is a company core value, says CEO Bryce Blair: "I am proud of the AvalonBay residents and associates who, on Make A Difference Day, made that a reality."
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the American Red Cross.
MOUNT PLEASANT, TEXAS: From hardship to a helping hand
Jessie McDowell, 17, of Mount Pleasant, Texas, hasn't forgotten when her father lost his job seven years ago and her family was struggling. "It's scary not knowing where your next meal is coming from," she says. Recalling that her family received Kool-Aid and peanut butter from a food drive during that time, McDowell, now a high school junior, wanted to repay the kindness. For Make A Difference Day, she and her pals held a bake sale, penny drive and food collection at a store, netting two carts of food and $1,342.34 for a food pantry.
"I have a motto: 'Be a blessing and you will be blessed,' " she says.
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to East Texas Food Bank.
YAZOO CITY, MISS.: Just one day helps many
Tabatha McBay of Bentonia, Miss., knows a good yard sale when she spots one. On Oct. 25, 2008, she thought she'd hit the jackpot on Grand Avenue in Yazoo City -- even before she noticed there weren't any price tags. "When I found out it was all free, I couldn't believe it," she says.
McBay had stumbled upon Leola Dillard's 12th annual Make A Difference Day Free Flea Market. Dillard, a 97-year-old retired teacher, sponsored her first "yard sale" for the poor in 1997, giving away clothing. In subsequent years, the effort grew. "I love Make A Difference Day because I can help so many people on just one day," she says.
Aided by her seven children and other volunteers, Dillard opened her yard on Oct. 25 to "shoppers." Recipients hauled off appliances, TVs, food, 10 new bikes and about 150 books. Dillard says she'll continue her giveaway as long as she's able. "I just love seeing them take carloads away," she says.
$10,000 Make A Difference Day Award from Newman's Own goes to the United Way of West Central Mississippi.
Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of helping others, is sponsored by USA WEEKEND Magazine and its 600 carrier newspapers. Make A Difference Day is held in partnership with HandsOn Network and is supported by Newman's Own, which provides $10,000 donations to charities selected by of each of 10 national honorees. The 19th Make A Difference Day is Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009.