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Posted July 11, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Author starts Christmas Jars Foundation

Jason Wright

The cover of "Christmas Jars," by Jason Wright, is shown. — Courtesy Shadow Mountain

Cameron Birch, who died in 2006 at the age of 5 after a year-long battle with brain cancer, was one of the first recipients of a Christmas jar. Cameron used the money from the jars left on his front porch to buy toys for other young cancer patients. — Courtesy of Birch Family

Jason Wright's novel inspires spirit of anonymous giving

By Sally Voth - svoth@nvdaily.com

A tradition sprung from Woodstock-based author Jason Wright's New York Times-bestselling novel "Christmas Jars" is an example of life imitating art.

And, in the hopes of expanding that tradition, Wright is launching the Christmas Jars Foundation.

The 2005 novel is the story of a reporter who receives an anonymous gift of a jarful of cash, and embarks on a search for the giver. Wright's touching story has inspired what he estimates to be "many, many thousands" of Christmas jars being given to those in need by families who have deposited their loose change into countertop jars.

"The foundation first was suggested to me in 2006," said Wright as he sat down in a Strasburg eatery recently. "Someone actually handed me a check for one thousand bucks in 2006, and said, 'Here you go. You've got to start a foundation beyond the book and help with people that can't necessarily get involved, but want to be.'"

With the feeling that it didn't quite feel right at the time, Wright sent the check back.

It may have taken another six years, but now the feeling is right.

"In the last few months, some things kind of fell into place and I started to feel like I was now being kind of nudged back to it," Wright said.

The foundation will supply the copies of the book and jars to schools and churches that otherwise can't afford them. It also will extend the movement to the corporate world and retail establishments.

"It's really not about spreading the book," Wright said. "It's about spreading the Christmas jar."

The jars' contents would go to a local person or family in need.

"It's something that we're finding, some of the most worthy recipients are the ones that you will never hear about because they're not in the newspaper," Wright said.

They could be a lonely widow, a family whose father lost his job or those too embarrassed to tell anyone they need help. Jar recipients and donors have shared their personal stories at christmasjars.com.

"That spirit of anonymous giving is what we're trying to multiply," Wright said. "The whole point of a Christmas jar is to think of others every day of the year. It's not just at Christmas that we should be charitable. We should be charitable every day."

Every time someone drops change into a Christmas jar, he or she is committing a little act of kindness, he said. Wright is delighted that someone doing that in July is doing so while having no idea who will get the jar in five months, "and yet they're serving somebody."

While the new foundation might cover the cost of Wright flying to talk to a group applying for the books and jars, he won't be collecting any royalties. Those in need can also apply for a jar for themselves.

"These are people that are not on anyone's radar," Wright said of those recipients. "We don't want people to ever slip through the cracks."

Also, according to the foundation's site, jars will be available during other times of the year for emergencies.

One of the friends working with Wright on the foundation is also one of the first-ever recipients of a Christmas jar. Matt Birch, of Farmington, Utah, was the publicist for "Christmas Jars." He was also the father of one very special little boy, Cameron.

At the age of 4, Cameron was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer called medulloblastoma. A golfball-sized tumor was removed from his brain.

"I've always told people that I don't know what the doctors did inside his brain that day, but he went from a little 4-year-old boy who was just all over the place ... [to] a perfect little man," Birch said in phone interview. "He never complained. He never argued. He never fought. He was nice to people. He was always positive."

Cameron was a good child before the surgery, of course, but the transformation afterward was remarkable and awe-inspiring.

"He said it hurt his heart to see other kids with cancer," Birch said. "He just spent the next year trying to help other people, spent the year getting the rest of the family through what he was going through."

So determined was he to help other pediatric cancer patients, Cameron had a fundraiser and used the proceeds to buy teddy bears for them.

Less than two months before Cameron died, something miraculous happened.

"On Christmas Eve, we got the Christmas jars," Birch said.

The family's link to Wright was purely coincidental in this instance, both men said.

Cameron was told the money in the jars was for him. Instead, he told his father he wanted to use it to buy toys for the oncology department's playroom, and came up with a list of toys he thought the children would enjoy.

According to the Christmas Jars website, the toys were bought a month after Cameron's February 2006 death at the age of 5.

His father said he believes Cameron is watching this giving spirit continue to grow.

"He literally spent the year that he had the cancer teaching me how to be a better person, how to be a better dad, how to be a better husband, how to help other people," Birch said. "I absolutely believe that he is very happy with the things that are going on and all the people that this is going to help.

"He went into the operating room a 4-year-old little boy, and he came out a better man than I will ever be if I live to be 150."

Birch and his wife -- who have three other children ages 6-17 -- say they felt that if Cameron had lived, it would be because he had something very important to accomplish in this life, but if he didn't, it was because he had something even bigger to do on the other side.

Having been involved with Wright's novel from the beginning, Birch has been amazed at its impact.

"I've watched just hundreds and hundreds of stories coming in about lives being touched or changed by the simple act of just giving $25, or $500," he said. "There's been so many times when people were distraught. They didn't know what to do, and this one small act changed their attitude and in many cases, it changed their lives. It's more than giving money. [It's] giving people hope."

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