We always are on the lookout for stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, so when we got a suggestion from our Indianapolis correspondent Bill Shaw, 38, for what he called “a great” Spirit story, we were intrigued. The profile Bill wrote more than lived up to his prediction. It was the moving account of Anne Brooks, a Catholic nun who is also a doctor, and her struggle to tend the poor in the small town of Tutwiler, Miss. (PEOPLE, March 23).
As often happens, the story did not end with its publication. Recently Shaw, a free-lance journalist for the past eight years who finds Sister Anne “the most uncommonly decent person I’ve ever met,” checked back with her. He says she is staying up past her usual 8:30 p.m. bedtime, struggling to personally answer more than 300 letters she has received, despite the tendinitis she has developed in her right shoulder from so much handwriting. “I tell people how wonderful it is that they care, and I tell what we will do with their money,” she says of the $5,000 received in donations, plus gifts of clothing, medicine and toys. “I’m always impressed by the sincerity of the letters,” she adds. “The people are anxious to express their outrage and to share what they have with us.”
By far the largest gift is a custom-made $18,000, 15-passenger Ford van, donated anonymously by a Chicago investment banker; all that he asked was that Sister Anne should pray for his troubled son.
One well-wisher escaped altogether. She called from Lewiston, Maine at a time when Sister Anne was busy and couldn’t talk. Brooks lost the woman’s telephone number. “I’ve been brooding about it for days,” Sister Anne says. “I felt bad that the woman will think I’ve ignored her. I think her name is Ella Cox, and I wish I could contact her.” So Ella, if you are out there, could you call again?
But Sister Anne is just one of the recent story subjects to whom readers responded. In our March 16 issue we devoted eight pages to six examples of “ministering angels.” Among those to whom readers have generously sent letters and donations are:
•Rita Rockett, who entertains AIDS patients at a San Francisco hospital. She has received hundreds of letters and $1,000 in donations. Many offered to become pen pals with her crew in Ward 5A. “It was nice to reach regular people beyond the gay community,” she says. “And it helped the patients to know there were people out there who cared.”
•Harriett Allen Weitzner, the self-described “yarn-trepreneur” who organizes senior citizens to knit scarves for needy children in Cleveland. She cries, “Help! I can’t get into my living room,” explaining she has received 70 boxes of newly donated yarn and 500 pairs of knitting needles. “I didn’t know there were so many caring people out there who just need a way to contribute,” she says. “We’re really in business now.”
•Julie Leirich, the Los Angeles supermarket checkout girl who has organized the distribution of 6½ tons of food a month to the poor. She was delighted to find 40 oversize orchids on the doorstep of her TLC (The Loving Cup) after her story ran, and producers have been turning up, eager to turn her story into a TV movie. But Julie, always in need of more volunteers to help distribute groceries, has her eye on the old folks. “Many have idle time and can drive,” she says, “so now I’m planning to give talks at retirement centers.”
For more about those in need of an angel, who just might happen to be your neighbor, turn to page 94.