Emily Elkins, the teenaged cancer patient who became famous because a career criminal stole a donation jar from a store, has some great news.
“I am in remission and completely cancer-free,” the 15-year-old said.
You might think that would be her greatest Christmas wish, but Emily Elkins’ place in the world is far larger than herself.
“Emily’s Wish” is now an annual toy and clothing drive to help needy kids have a better Christmas of their own.
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After almost two years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and surgeries, Emily this year helped bring together gifts for more than 40 children.
She did not know these kids. She did it because they are children – period.
“And we gave out 92 food baskets, too,” Emily said. “We had truckloads of toys. Every kid needs toys for Christmas. Everyone needs to know that someone loves them.”
Just before Christmas last year, The Herald’s coverage of Emily’s fight against cancer and the theft of a jar full of donations for her family sparked national attention that led to huge donations.
Emily bought toys for the patients at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, where she herself had been a patient. Emily adopted dozens of kids on an Angel Tree at a store. She bought clothes and blankets and food for the homeless and poor.
All this she did while enduring the brutal chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She kept on looking for ways to help other kids.
This year, starting back in the summer, Emily’s family and the women’s motorcycle group the Dragonfly Sisters worked on a toy collection. There were money donations and product donations. Emily asked the Rev. Ronal King, who runs Christians to Feed the Hungry ministry, and Ronnie Aiton, who runs the Kids for Jesus bus ministry, to find children who needed helped.
Emily did a lot of the shopping herself.
By the time the presents were handed out last weekend at the Rock Hill Elks Club, there were so many toys and blankets and clothes and stuff that it took a small army of volunteers to handle it all.
“Emily Elkins is a true expression of God’s love,” King said. “For someone like her, who has been through so much, to care more about other children having a Christmas and joy and hope, it is a special anointing.
“She has given to others through her own illness. She has a special, beautiful heart.”
‘I want to be generous’
In August, a year after he stole the donation jar, Johnny Ray Kendricks was sentenced to 15 years in prison for that and other crimes. Emily did not have to forgive Kendricks that day, because she had forgiven him the same day he stole the jar in July 2012.
It is that same spirit that Emily continues to show in all she does for others.
“If I can help other people in my life, and do things that will make their lives just a little bit better, then that is what I will do,” Emily said. “People have been so generous to me, and with me.
“I want to be generous with all the love I have received.”
Emily’s father, Paul Elkins, an Elks member who helped with the donation event, said never a day goes by that he is not amazed by his daughter’s generosity.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am to have a daughter like her who has such a heart for people,” Paul Elkins said.
Emily’s mother, Annie Brakefield, said Emily’s family has grown from blood relatives to an entire Rock Hill community and beyond – and they all appreciate the love, the prayers, the donations, more. The family wants to thank all the people who have helped Emily help others.
“I would hope anyone out there who has been touched by Emily – because we have been touched by the grace of people – finds someone or some group to help,” Brakefield said.
Even after this year’s toy drive ended, Emily was still helping several families get toys that were left over from the event – including one family with six children who lost everything in a fire.
“Helping people is the best thing I can do,” Emily said. “Anybody can do it. Just find somebody, then help them.”
Life going on
Emily recently got her driver’s permit and will return to the 10th grade at York Preparatory Academy in January after almost two years of keeping up with classwork at home.
She plans to attend South Pointe High School starting in August for her last two years of high school. She plans to run track again and wants to be a cheerleader in college. She already is looking at joining the Navy and becoming one of those Navy CSI types she sees on television.
“They solve cases and help people,” Emily said.
Her hair and eyelashes and eyebrows that fell out during treatments are starting to grow back. Emily wants to be a normal teenager.
But Emily Elkins is not normal. She turned an awful disease, and the theft of her donation jar, into a chance to change the lives of countless children. She has dedicated her life to helping other people.
She has no plans to stop.
The spirit of Christmas born those 2,000-plus years ago lives on in tiny Catawba, South Carolina. It is carried on by Emily.
She leads the way.