MT. VERNON — An anonymous $6,455 donation to the United Way Imagination Station reading program came as a huge surprise to staff.
"I came back from lunch and a UPS envelope was taped to the door," said Lynn Hutchison, community resource director for United Way of South Central Illinois. "I brought it in, thinking it was just another letter we receive, regular business. I tore it open then I saw the letter and the check."
Hutchison said she was stunned.
"I cried, I really did," Hutchison said. "Sometimes you feel like you are spinning your wheels a lot and wonder if you really are making a difference. Then something like this happens and you realize what you are doing is important and others realize this program and others are important to so many people."
Hutchison said her next move was to call United Way Executive Director Rhonda Edmonson, who was home sick that day.
"I got the call, and we both started laughing and talking all at once," Edmonson said. "We really don't know who sent the money. Nothing like this has ever happened to us before."
The letter which accompanied the cashier's check said the donation was to honor the late John Bey.
"The late John Bey was a resident of Mt. Vernon for over 20 years," the letter states. "He passed away this year at the age of 90. He retired to this area because he had several friends who lived here, but he outlived them all.
"John had a varied work history working as a painter for many years in both Chicago and before that the Detroit area. However, John's work was often hampered by his inability to read, and he could barely write. As an African-American growing up in the rural south, his opportunities for education were limited. Raised by his aunt and uncle, he left home at the young age of 14 to work, ending up in Florida where he worked in the shipping docks for many years before heading north.
"This gift to the United Way is made on this Giving Tuesday to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in honor of John Bey in the hopes that every child in this region is given a chance to read.
"It is the sincere request of this bequest that it be directed to the Imagination Library so that every book request for an impoverished child is honored not only this year, but hopefully in the years to come."
Edmonson said the $6,455 donation will impact the lives of 248 children in the area.
"It only costs $26 to provide monthly books to children for a year," Edmonson said. "Yes, this is a lot of money, but anyone can donate smaller amounts and still impact the life of a child."
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library program is a literacy initiative, which the United Way of South Central Illinois began providing in 2011. The program delivers books once a month to children from newborn to five years old. In addition, a part of the showroom at Rent One on 42nd Street has been set aside for the library portion of the program, with books and seating.
"Someone went to great lengths to make this a truly anonymous donation," Edmonson said. "We tried for a few days to track down who it might be, but it's impossible. We just thank them and every one of our donors."
To find out more about the programs of United Way and its funding opportunities, contact the office at 242-8000 or go online to uwsci.org.