December 15, 2008 12:00 PM


Powell, Ohio

When Douglas was only 9, she locked eyes with a barefoot girl in a rural Ohio supermarket, wearing only a T-shirt and shorts on a bitter November day. While the Douglas family was preparing for a lavish Thanksgiving dinner, the girl’s family only bought bologna and bread for their holiday meal. “I knew it wasn’t right,” says Douglas.

At that moment, Douglas vowed to help other kids in need. She emptied out her piggy bank, asked neighbors for contributions and bought toys and clothes for seven local children that Christmas. Since then, through her nonprofit Grandma’s Gifts (, founded in honor of her Appalachian-born grandmother who routinely cooked meals for neighbors in need, Douglas, now a 26-year-old graduate student, and five volunteers have handed out winter coats, food and school grants worth more than $12 million to more than a million needy children in the region. “Everyone is having hard times,” says Alice Cook, 33, of Willow Wood, Ohio, whose two sons participate in science workshops funded by Grandma’s Gifts. “But Emily broadens the horizons for my kids. And she does it out of the goodness of her heart.”

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