A South Carolina teen and her church raise funds to bring two children to the U.S. for heart surgery
Can’t is not a word in Leanna Morris’ vocabulary.
“When she gets something in her mind, she’s not going to let you forget about it,” said her father, Wayne.
The 15-year-old from Greer, South Carolina, has a big heart to match her can-do tenacity. With assistance from family members, she organized a spaghetti dinner at her church to raise money for Children’s Heart Project.
The goal was $2,200, enough money to provide round-trip airfare for one boy or girl to come to the United States for life-saving surgery. But when the final tally came in the following week, they had raised enough funds for not one, but two children!
Leanna presented a check for $4,432.70 to Samaritan’s Purse Chief Operating Officer Ron Wilcox and Children’s Heart Project regional host coordinator Theresa Shoemaker when the teenager and her family visited Samaritan’s Purse this month.
“It means a lot to me to know that I have helped these children on their journey to recovery, that I played a role in them getting better,” Leanna said. “I feel very blessed to help them have the opportunity to know God.”
One of the heart patients being helped through the donation is a 16-year-old Mongolian girl named Norjinsuren, who underwent a procedure that will give her more oxygen saturation and a greater level of activity. She, along with her mother and an interpreter, are expected to return to Mongolia in March.
Children’s Heart Project staff and the host family in Minnesota are planning to have the two teens “meet” via a Skype internet call once Norjinsuren recuperates.
“I hope to tell her how much she has impacted my life and the lives of my family members,” Leanna said. “I would just love to tell her that I want her to get better and everyone at my church wants her to get better.”
Leanna discovered Children’s Heart Project in November when she looked through the pages of the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas catalog. Her family participates in Operation Christmas Child every year, but she was not familiar with other projects of the ministry.
“I wanted to do something for children,” said Leanna, who works with the Mission Kids group at her church, Memorial Methodist, in Greer. “I told my parents about the idea, and then it just sort of grew.”
Wayne and Christy had reservations about how much money they could realistically collect, but there was no changing their daughter’s determined mind.
“This was around Thanksgiving,” Wayne said. “That’s a busy time for everybody. We have two birthdays and then Christmas. But she stayed after us.”
“I didn’t let them forget,” Leanna said.
After considering a few fundraising options, they decided to hold a spaghetti dinner. If 200 people attended and paid $10 a plate, that would get them close to the $2,200 goal.
Ticket sales got off to a slow—even dismal—start when they went on sale at church New Year’s Day, three weeks before the dinner.
“I sold six tickets that day,” Leanna said.
The following week she gathered her courage and announced the upcoming fundraiser from the pulpit. She also showed a Children’s Heart Project video, and interest quickly took off.
“I think at first people didn’t realize what Children’s Heart Project was all about,” Wayne said. “They have heard about the shoe boxes and Operation Christmas Child, but they didn’t know about the other projects that Samaritan’s Purse does. It was an eye opener for them.”
Preparation for the big event became a family affair. Leanna’s grandmother, Pam, made 250 cupcakes. Leanna’s parents cooked the sauce and spaghetti in the church kitchen. Leanna and her sister, Emily, pitched in with the cooking and decorating duties.
About three dozen preschoolers and elementary school-age children jumped in to help. They designed white placemats with drawings of hearts and messages like “Hope Your Heart Feels Better.” The kids also made their own get-well cards to send to Children’s Heart Project patients.
The event turned out to be a big success as 190 people filled Memorial Methodist’s family life center. In addition to the donations raised from meal tickets, Sunday school classes at the church also contributed.
“Our church was great,” Wayne said. “We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support. And a lot of people commented they were so proud of Leanna for wanting to do this.”
Leanna is already pondering what project she might like to support in the Christmas catalog next year. Some possibilities are the $3,500 suggested cost to build a house for a needy family overseas, or $15,000 to construct a church.
“I think I may want to do that one,” she said.
Her mom smiled and nodded her head. “That’s a lot of spaghetti.”
“And cupcakes,” added her grandmother.