Community’s outpouring to 7-year-old COVID-19 survivor is what the holidays are all about | Jenice Armstrong
With so much suffering and so many Americans out of work and hungry right now, some of the usual Christmas rituals we indulge in ring hollow.
I haven’t finished decorating my Christmas tree.
Nor have I wrapped a single gift.
But because of the generosity of some of you, it’s as if I’m already celebrating. That’s because some of y’all really showed up and showed out — all to spread joy during a difficult time for one family when the country is averaging almost 200,000 new coronavirus cases daily.
It started earlier this week after I wrote a column about how 7-year-old Rasul Bey, who has autism, used his savings and donations to purchase 300 gifts for schoolmates at the Philadelphia Charter School of Arts and Sciences in Northwood.
Like me, many of you were moved by the fact that little Rasul, who is high functioning but struggles with remote learning, and his mother, Latyia Johnson, had been hit hard by the pandemic yet were trying to help others.
Both were diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. Even before that, Johnson had been sidelined from her job as a school bus monitor because of the pandemic. Her unemployment benefits expire this month. But that didn’t stop Johnson and Rasul from filling their modest Oxford Circle rowhouse with toys from Five Below and the Dollar Store for the giveaway.
A school maintenance worker dressed up as Santa and local TV cameras were waiting when they showed up Tuesday to drop the toys off at school. Many of you were so moved that you flooded my inbox and voice mail with offers to buy Rasul that $300 Nintendo Switch he’d been asking his mom if Santa would bring him for Christmas.
Members of the Dollarboyz dance team were among the first to offer to purchase the gaming system. Then on Wednesday, the Lerman family drove from Cherry Hill to personally deliver a Nintendo Switch console to Rasul.
» READ MORE: He’s 7, has autism, and just got over COVID-19. But he’s helping others. What’s stopping you? | Jenice Armstrong
Some of you offered to send checks and money orders to help with living expenses.
“I’ve witnessed so much heartfelt generosity from people, who, like Latyia, worry about having the resources for feeding her family, and keeping a roof over their heads, and yet, can be so kind to others,” Russ Aiello explained in an email. “I, on the other hand, have some financial strength, and keep telling myself, ‘I’m going to help this cause and that cause,’ and do nothing. Now, I’m seeing a country filled with people, families, through no cause of their own, struggle to survive, and it breaks my heart.”
See what I mean? Principal Judith Taggart, who is accepting checks on the family’s behalf at the school at 1197 Haworth St., Philadelphia, PA 19124, teared up when I read the email to her.
“It’s been a very difficult time for our community,” she said.
It’s been rough on a whole lot of us.
One of my relatives is fighting for her life in intensive care right now. Even though she doesn’t have COVID, her children can’t be with her in what may turn out to be her final hours. This is happening all around the country as intensive care units fill with COVID-19 patients.
With so much suffering and so many Americans out of work and hungry right now, some of the usual Christmas rituals we indulge in ring hollow. I think that’s why so many of you felt compelled to reach out about Rasul and his mother the way you did.
“We’re all going through a trying time,” Johnson told me. “I didn’t have a lot to bless others with. But the little bit that we did have to bless others with, we’re getting blessings on blessings now.”
One emailer told her, “I don’t have much to give but I can offer you guys $50 because what Rasul did was a blessing.”
Here’s hoping that Rasul’s generosity will inspire others to think of ways to help those around them. If a 7-year-old can put others before self, what’s stopping the rest of us?