DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — All 9-year-old Karen Lewis wanted to do was help her parents. So instead of her mother and father dipping into their tight budget for her school supplies, Karen worked and saved $35 for the items.
On Aug. 24, she and her mother, Ellie Lewis, hit the Walmart aisles looking for all the supplies on the Burnet school list. At one point, Karen set down the jar containing her savings, and somebody picked it up and walked off with it, leaving the 9-year-old with no money and no school supplies.
“She was heartbroken,” Ellie said. “The look on her face, well, it just devastated me. It was terrible. What kind of lesson is this for her.”
As one of five children, Karen decided to save her money and buy her own school supplies this year. Ellie and her husband, Billy Lewis, work six jobs between them and still barely make ends meet — and sometimes they do a lot of pulling to get those ends to stretch together. The couple planned on buying school supplies for their children, but Karen and the kids decided to take it upon themselves this year to help their parents.
With her money gone, Karen faced starting class with no new supplies. This stung Ellie.
Ellie decided to let the person who took her daughter’s money know how it hurt her and the girl. So she penned an open letter to the individual and posted it on her Facebook page. But the response Ellie got from the letter surprised her.
“I wasn’t looking for anything from it. I just wanted to let that person know how upset what he or she did made Karen,” Ellie said.
Folks who read about the situation began sending private messages to Ellie asking how they could help. At first, Ellie refused the requests from people — even complete strangers. But somebody pointed out that what the thief did painted a bad picture of people for the 9-year-old girl. So why not let others show her all people aren’t like that?
“It was amazing,” Ellie said. By the time the help stopped, Karen had more than enough to meet her school supplies needs. Somebody even gave her a $100 gift card to purchase supplies for her classroom.
But this left Karen with a problem: what to do with leftover money.
She bought her brother a toy. The other funds, though, wouldn’t be used by Karen for herself.
“She decided that there were other people who probably needed help, too, so she’s going to use the money to help those people,” Ellie said. “It’s pretty cool that here’s this 9-year-old girl who just had her money stolen, but she’s thinking about other people. That just made my heart swell.”
It’s not the first time Karen has put someone else’s needs before her own. A few Christmases ago, Ellie and Billy came to the realization they just didn’t have enough money to buy presents. They shared that reality with the kids, though the couple did manage to set enough aside for at least one family gift. When Karen heard this, she just couldn’t let Christmas go by without a present for everybody in the family. So she began saving coins she found and other money until she eventually had $9.
She found somebody to take her to a local dollar store, where she purchased a gift for everyone in her family except for herself.
“It wasn’t just something to have under the tree. She put thought into each thing she bought,” Ellie said.
When Ellie and Billy saw what their youngest child was doing for the family, the couple decided they needed to get her something for Christmas. So Billy used a gold chain he received the Christmas before and Ellie selected a pendant that once belonged to her mother (who happened to be named Karen), and they put the two items together for their daughter’s gift.
After the response from the Facebook message, Karen felt a bit overwhelmed, but this time it was from a place of gratitude. So to show her appreciation, Karen drew a heart with a tear on it to say “thank you.”
“I’m so very, very proud of her,” Ellie said. “She’s just a great kid and always is putting other people before herself.”