Emily Elkins died last week at age 16 after a three-year battle with cancer, but her generosity and her dying wish will last forever.
A homeless shelter for families, a place filled with love.
Emily’s family and a Rock Hill church are working now on a foundation that will create “Emily’s House,” a year-round homeless shelter for families.
On top of that, Emily’s family wants to go to the state prison housing the criminal who stole her donation jar in 2012, a theft that set in motion Emily’s journey of giving and turned her from anonymous sick kid into national hero of love.
Not to rub it in. Not to taunt. But to hug him and tell him that Emily loved him, too.
And that all is forgiven.
Emily died March 11. Hundreds attended her funeral Tuesday. In 2012, when Johnny Ray Kendricks stole a donation jar with $70 in it from a store, The Herald’s coverage of the theft and follow-up stories made Emily a celebrity as the stories were picked up across America.
She used that status, even as she was sick and dying, to help others by organizing toy drives for needy children and many other donation projects. Emily took some of her first donations and bought clothes and blankets for the homeless, and one of her toy drives that will go on every year at Christmas was for homeless children.
“Emily always wanted to do something for the homeless that was permanent,” said her mother, Annie Brakefield, “and this homeless shelter with her name on it is it.”
The details of the shelter’s location are still to be worked out, but the Rev. Jonathan Pannell, senior pastor of Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene in Rock Hill, is working on finding a building that will either be near the church south of the city or in another location.
Pannell has talked with several people who run shelters in the past few days, telling all that Emily wanted this shelter and the community needs it. The shelter would fill a niche to serve families, Pannell said.
“Emily’s final wishes were to go to Hawaii on her Make-A-Wish trip – but she was too sick – and have a homeless shelter that operated year-round,” Pannell said. “We are going to make this wish come true.”
The family is also planning to go to see Johnny Ray Kendricks, the man who stole Emily’s donation jar, at an Allendale prison. Kendricks was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013, not just for the donation jar theft, but for several other crimes, including the burglary of a convenience store.
Kendricks, 52, a convicted felon with a criminal record since he was 18, admitted in court to substance abuse problems. He said he didn’t know that the donation jar was for a kid with cancer – despite the jar saying so on it.
But Emily loved him anyway.
“Emily forgave him, we all forgave him a long time ago, and we want him to know that what he did started something special,” said Ray Brakefield, Emily’s stepfather. “Emily did not want him to go to prison. She always said that she would have given him the money he took from that jar, and she meant it.
“We want him to know that he is part of God’s plan, that the plan for all the good Emily has been able to do in her life, and always will do, started with him. It started when he took that jar but so much good has come from it.
“We are going to hug him and hug him for Emily, and tell him that Emily loves him from heaven, and we love him on earth.”
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org