Making lights shine bright

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 08:18 PM

From now until March 12, shoppers at Food Lion can donate to Easter Seals, a non-profit organization that helps people of all ages living with developmental, physical or mental disabilities or other special needs.

Sanford served as the kick-off location for Easter Seals’ Shop and Care program, with regional officials from Easter Seals and Food Lion joining with local officials, as well as families whose children and loved ones benefit from the group’s assistance. The campaign technically began Wednesday, although Thursday was the day of the launch.

In the fund-raising campaign, shoppers who make a $1 donation will receive a coupon book with $9.50 worth of deals. Also, whenever people buy either Food Lion brand water or specially marked cereal boxes from General Mills — which makes Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, Total and others — those companies will donate money as well.

Last year, the company raised $4.5 million from shoppers: a record haul for the program that is going into its 22nd year.

In addition to Sanford being chosen as the location for the program’s media launch, two local children were chosen as faces of the campaign and will have their photos on boxes of cereal as well as fliers and other promotional materials.

Faith McNeill, 7, and Isaiah Johnson, 2, both live in Sanford and have families who credit Easter Seals for helping them make huge steps in their development.

Faith suffers from Down syndrome, and her mother, Lisa Britt, said she never would have been able to handle Faith’s special needs, while also trying to raise other children as a single mother, without help from Easter Seals. Stepping Stones Children’s Center, the daycare program that Easter Seals operates on Kelly Drive in Sanford, was the only day care program in the area that would take Faith, Britt said.

“As soon as we walked in the door ... they weren’t just willing to keep her; they were excited to have her,” she said.

Faith literally took her first steps at Stepping Stones, Britt said, an apt metaphor for how the group helped her grow and develop. Now, Faith is in the Harnett County public school system, and Britt said she misses the care Stepping Stones provided.

Isaiah, on the other hand, is still enjoying that care. He was accompanied to Thursday’s event by his grandmother, Sheila Seymore, who said the boy has a mild form of cerebral palsy, and that she and his mother can’t imagine trying to raise him without the care provided by Stepping Stones and Easter Seals.

“We couldn’t have done anything about him without them,” she said, smiling at the boy as he “signed” the cereal boxes with his picture on it by scribbling with a magic marker. She said those very motor skills he was putting on display were something the program has really helped him with, as well as his speaking skills.

Earlier in the morning, as proof of that point, Faith took the microphone from a presenter and sang something before handing it to Isaiah, who grabbed it and followed with a verse of his own. It was clear the boy had no trouble displaying his motor and verbal skills for a crowd.

Jeff Smith, the chief communications officer for Easter Seals operations in North Carolina and Virginia, said the group helps about 20,000 children and adults each year in that region. In Lee County, it operates a home for special needs adults in addition to Stepping Stones. He said that while the group’s help lights up the lives of their charges, the light couldn’t go on without community support and donations.

“That light shines bright every day when you see our kids at the center preparing for school,” he said. “And your help makes that light shine bright.”