Search for American Girl Doll leads to Christmas cheer across the valley
Kaila Towle, of Edwards, has never met a stranger. Everyone she meets, including patrons of Etown where she is a server, are just friends she hasn’t met yet.
And while she was feeling down since she couldn’t be home with her family in Massachusetts for the holidays due to COVID-19, she spent Christmas and New Year’s in the valley making new friends after she posted on Facebook inquiring for help finding an American Girl Doll for a “stinking cute” 6-year-old and an elevator tour for her brother went viral.
Close to 500 people liked the post in a community Facebook group, with almost 200 comments of people wanting to help Towle get the doll, elevator tour and anything else to help the local mom who dined in Etown the week before Christmas.
No need for doll
When Towle went to work at Etown on Friday, Dec. 18, she was already feeling uneasy after canceling a trip home to the East Coast to surprise her family at Christmas dinner. Like everyone, the past year has impacted Towle in its own way.
While serving a pleasant mother from Eagle and her 6-year-old daughter, Towle got the impression that it might not be a very merry Christmas in their household. She asked the young girl what she asked for from Santa, and was told that Santa can’t make it this year due to COVID-19 but she understood that maybe next year she would get an American Girl Doll, and her 9-year-old brother who has autism an elevator.
“I interpreted the conversation as: Mom hasn’t worked since February, it’s going to be tough to get an American Girl Doll — they’re expensive; and she can’t build an elevator,” Towle said, adding that she immediately made a connection with them.
So she went home that Friday night after serving and spent all of the next day thinking how she could help this family she just met during the holidays. However, after the mother saw Towle’s Facebook post and knew it was about her and her family, she reached out.
“We were cracking up because she said, ‘I can totally see how from your perspective you thought that, but not only are we OK to get an American Girl Doll, but we’re actually pretty well off and we adopt a family every year for Christmas,’” Towle recalls the mother saying. “’I was just trying to teach my daughter a lesson.’”
It turns out, the family also has connections with the American Girl Doll company itself, anyways.
But with the community already mobilized to help thanks to her Facebook post, Towle connected with three other local families via direct message that were in need this holiday.
“I interpreted the whole thing wrong,” Towle said of her interaction with the Eagle mother and her daughter in e-Town, “but I know it worked out for a reason because of three other families.”
In addition to finding a local elevator operator who will be taking the 9-year-old brother of the family on a tour, as well as presenting him with a certificate, Towle found hundreds of other locals looking to help, many ready to donate money via Venmo, something she had not expected.
In the holiday rush and overwhelming response to her social post, she only replied to about six people taking them up on their cash donations. When one woman sent $500 immediately, Towle followed up to make sure she didn’t mean to send $50 — there was no typo or extra zero. Towle decided to match $500 of her own money, and ultimately raised over $2,000 in cash and donations.
With many people to thank and blessed to be a facilitator of the community, Towle is especially thankful of Michael Campbell, of Moe’s Original BBQ; Hugo Ramirez, of Drunken Goat; Gypsum’s Vikki Hobbs; and Kris Wagner Wittenberg, of Be Good to People.
“I thought it was a fitting thing this time of year, especially with how traumatic this year has been for everybody, I just wanted to brighten somebody’s day,” Campbell said.
“She just has a huge heart,” Wittenberg said of Towle. “I just love how it’s blown up.”
Towle spent the early part of Christmas week shopping for the three families she connected with on Facebook — in addition to gift cards to City Market and Walmart, Towle wrapped baby toys, sleds, hats, jackets, socks, footballs and all sorts of other presents that consumed her living room.
One family in Eagle reached out for help after seeing Towle’s Facebook post, a mother who doesn’t speak English — and Towle doesn’t speak Spanish. However, the two have grown very close in the past weeks, even spending the holidays together and sharing traditions — through the woman’s husband, who translates.
One woman in Leadville — who usually adopts a family herself — reached out for help, as she is helping raise three grandchildren (and six dogs) at the moment and her husband’s out of work due to the pandemic. When she came over to Towle’s to pick up the gifts, the two ended up sitting and drinking tea for hours.
“We cried. We laughed. I feel like she’s my new Colorado mom,” Towle said of her new relationship.
Another family in Avon also received some Christmas cheer from Towle and the community ahead of the holiday.
“It turned out to be such a beautiful, crazy experience,” she said. “But as cheesy as it sounds, the most beautiful part about all of it is the relationships behind the scenes that no one has seen or read.”
Towle was spreading the holiday joy all over the valley leading up to Christmas. She even stopped and surprised a homeless man with his dogs outside of Walmart. She knows to be wary of panhandling but got a genuine feeling from the man. She started by giving him treats for his dogs, which he was very appreciative of. Then, having just left Walmart with gift cards, Towle gave him a $50 card, for which he was extremely thankful to put toward water and his dogs for his journey. Towle eventually ended up giving the man multiple gift cards after hearing his story.
“’I have a son, you know?’” she remembers him telling her. “’And he has kids. He’s not as poor as me, but he’s not the most-well off. I’m going to buy my grandkids gifts for the first time in many Christmases.’”
In that moment, Towle saw the power of giving.
“I knew in that moment that it was a very genuine thing,” Towle recalls. “He went from I need water for me and my dogs to I’m going to give. In my head, that is exactly what I just thought about and posted about — if you give joy, people are going to give it more and give it back.”
For Towle, who was feeling down over the holidays, giving is just in her nature.
She hopes to pursue the idea of doing some kind of gift exchange again next year to help families in need — with some planning instead of the week-of.
“If we — and I say ‘we’ because I just made the post — if we as a community did that much in 24 hours, imagine what we could do for more families and a few months’ planning?” Towle said.
Towle’s mom, Kelle, has always taught her to see the good in people, she said. And since she couldn’t be with her mom — who’s also never met a stranger — Towle spent the holiday bettering the community here, in Eagle County, for people in need.
Towle remembers being drawn to the first family that dined in Etown, especially after hearing about the brother with autism. Towle herself spent eight years working in residential housing for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, specializing in autism, before moving to Colorado. Her mom, too, worked in the field and would sometimes bring her along growing up. Towle plans to return to working in that field at some point, considering it a passion. However, she is enjoying her time at Etown, making new friends.
“I’ve stayed with Etown because it’s a small, family-run restaurant,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of great people.”
And as she plans for next Christmas and her future career, Towle will have to make adjustments along the way for when she meets new friends.
“No matter what you have going on, if you just do one thing to make someone else smile, it spirals,” she said.
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