At the height of the busiest time of the year for a Salvation Army officer, Lt. Michael Buzzard rushed into the Riverbend Elementary School in the small central Massachusetts town of Athol, where he and his wife are the commanding officers, to pick up items from a school food drive. When he arrived, the items had been placed under a Christmas tree in the school’s lobby with a sign at the top where a star or angel might normally reside: Wishing Tree, the sign proclaimed.
Intrigued, the Lt. examined the small, home-made paper mitten ornaments made by third and fourth graders. The wishes gave him pause. “I wish people would stop using drugs,” read one mitten. “I wish to be back with my family really soon,” said another. A third mitten proclaimed “NO pain!”
School guidance counselor, Linda Jaskoviak, who oversaw the December project explained that it was as “an opportunity to reflect on what is important in our own lives.”
Buzzard was impressed that very few of the wishes were for toys or what you would expect from children aged 8-9. He was struck by one in particular: “I wish I could pay my friend’s water bill.” The wish was scrawled in such a way that it was hard to read, but a teacher or Jaskoviak herself had helped David Karras, Jr. to simply write “Water Bill” in big bold letters on the back of the mitten.
Given the serious nature of some of the wishes, the Lt. knew that he could not make each one come true, but the water bill wish stayed with him.
He loaded the food items into The Salvation Army van brimming with emotion and then he sat in the driver’s seat and just cried for 20 minutes.
“Those wishes put into perspective why we put all of this effort into helping families at Christmas,” said Buzzard “When I saw the tree and those mittens, it was about these kids.”
Before he left the school, Lt. Buzzard found out that third-grader David Karras, Jr. made the wish, “I felt bad about my friend because he didn’t have water.” David’s friend was Kristian Yagovane and his mother was unable to pay a water bill of close to $1,000.
With the water shut off to their trailer home in neighboring Orange, MA, Kristian and his mother, Vanessa Mundell were forced to shower at the homes of friends and family and to carry gallon jugs of water back home to cook and clean.
Lt. Buzzard decided he had to try to make David’s Christmas wish come true, but aising that much money that close to the holiday wasn’t going to be easy. During the rest of Christmas week and in the few days after, local companies, churches and even the members of The Salvation Army Athol Corps stepped up and raised enough to pay Mundell’s bill.
Just days after the new year dawned, Kristian and Vanessa had the water turned back on for the first time in months. They were also able to access some state funds to get the pipes insulated as a freeze had been partially to blame for the high bill.
David said, “I’ve been really selfish to him sometimes. I wanted to make it up to him.”
With the water back on, Lt. Buzzard and his wife continue to assist Kristian and his family. And little David has made his grandmother proud. “He could have asked for anything in the world,” said Mary Caftagnaro “and he thought of his friend instead.”
David provides a great lesson to all of us about how we should consider our wishes and hopes.