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Program uses social media to grant wishes to needy

by JEREMY HARTLEY jhartley@indianagazette.net on November 03, 2013 2:50 AM

“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”

This quote by the late President Ronald Reagan greets visitors to the Pick A Wish Facebook page. The pick a wish movement, started by Emily Johns, of Indiana, and Terri Crook, of Elderton, aims to put those who need in touch with those who can give.

“I saw so many people in the last couple of years just being so absolutely generous to one another, and it was just absolutely a miracle every now and then when I saw it,” said Johns, 42, a stay-at-home mom of three children with disabilities. “I kept thinking about what could I do to help, because so many people have helped me and my children over the years. I wanted to do something to give back to all these people in general who have just been so kind to me and wonderful to us.”

Once Johns had the idea for Pick A Wish, she said it took her about three hours to set up the site. She then asked Crook to act as the site’s administrator.

Crook, 30, also has a child with disabilities. She said she met Johns through a free market website when they got to talking about the website and Johns asked her to come on as an administrator.

The Pick A Wish page was created in mid-October 2012 and has been growing since, Johns said. At the current moment, it boasts more than 1,000 members and has granted more than 300 wishes. Johns said they’re just getting started. She expects things to really begin moving the closer they get to Christmastime.

The system works by putting people who want to help in direct contact with those who are in need. Any member of the site can request help or post a list of things they have for donation. Then it’s simply a matter of those people getting in contact with each other via private message or another form of contact they have set up.

“We have a lot of good people in the community who are trying to come on and help fill the wishes we have so far,” Crook said.

Of course, Johns and Crook have set up several rules members of the site are expected to follow. These rules include a limit of one or two wishes, keeping requests simple and short, no monetary requests or donations, keeping wishes to around $50, no large items like furniture or vehicles, and keeping comments kind and considerate.

Once an individual requests membership to the site, Johns and Crook review the request for approval. One of their main jobs is to use discretion in figuring out who is really in need

“Last year we had people come on and make a wish,” Crook said, “and they’d get the stuff, then we’d see them selling the stuff on free market sites.”

But the problems don’t outweigh the benefits of the site, and Pick A Wish enjoys several success stories.

Johns related a story of a request received from an elderly woman in the Pittsburgh area. Her husband was very ill, and she wanted to make sure he was comfortable during the time he had left. While Pick A Wish typically doesn’t deal in furniture, several people on the site wanted to get together and purchase this man a comfortable chair.

“What ended up happening,” Johns said, “is we had a woman who took her own money to a furniture store in Pittsburgh, bought the chair, then delivered it to the door of the couple herself. We were able to help them out with dinner, too.”

Pick A Wish is even expanding out from its Indiana roots, according to Johns. There are now eight sites in Pennsylvania covering Indiana and Armstrong counties, Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, Cambria County, Somerset County, Greensburg and Jeannette, Leechburg and Vandergrift, Jefferson County and Blair County. A site has even been started serving Kinston, N.C.

Getting involved with Pick A Wish is very simple, Johns said. Anyone can visit the site, facebook.com/groups/pickawish, and request to be a member. After approval, the member can start posting requests for help or ways they can help.

The wish deadline is two weeks prior to Christmas, which gives them time to get donations delivered. Any donations that are left over are sent to The Salvation Army. Any leftover food donations go to the Indiana County Community Action Program.

Pick A Wish will be holding a Christmas party at the Fraternal Order of the Eagles on Philadelphia Street in Indiana on Dec. 21. They are looking for small toy donations so any child in attendance is able to get a toy from Santa.

“We’re trying to help as many people as we can,” Crook said, “because Emily and I have both been in the situation where times are tough and we don’t know what to do. But we always have somebody, family, friends, strangers, somebody offers to help, and that’s what we want to do.”

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