On March 3, 2008, Nate Berkus, the host of Oprah's Big Give, traveled to Indiana to surprise Shelley with $10,000 and a special mission.
Nate told Shelley she has five days to turn this money into a Big Give for Missy, Jeff and their triplets. "I wanted to help Missy and her family because how devastating it would be to lose all your possessions," Shelley said. "It just really tore at my heartstrings."
Before she could start making calls and soliciting donations, Shelley met with her old classmate to find out what the family needs to start fresh. "I need clothes, furniture, kitchen items...anything you put in a household we need," Missy said. "We lost everything."
Without any time to spare, Shelley rallied a team of helpers, set up a makeshift Big Give headquarters and began reaching out to friends, neighbors and strangers in the community.
Over the next five days, Shelley spent hours making phone calls and driving around town collecting donations. Big businesses contributed thousands of dollars, schools helped out by holding penny drives and strangers donated what they could. One woman even stopped Shelley on the street to give her a check for $1,000!
On the last day, Shelley gathered the entire town of Bedford, Indiana, together to show Missy and her family how big this small town's heart really is. A scroll of paper listed every donation the community made—from $50 to $15,000. What was the grand total?
Shelley and her team managed to turn Nate's $10,000 contribution into $134,137! "Great job, Shelley!" Oprah says.
Though Shelley didn't get much sleep during those five days, she says words can't describe the feeling she got from giving big. "I just prayed to God the week before, 'Put a positive change in my life.' And God sent me you," Shelley tells Oprah. "My life has forever been changed."
Shelley's good deeds aren't going to stop here. She says she and her team are planning to start a foundation dedicated to helping people in need.
Missy's still trying to find words to express how much her community's generosity has meant to her and her family. "It's just an awesome feeling to know that people in the community care as much as they do, even when they don't even know who you are," she says. "It just really touches you to know that when people find out that there is a need there, they want to help. They want to give."
Trey didn't set out to be an Oprah's Big Give viewer...he wanted to be a contestant. He had his application and audition tape ready to go when he realized he missed the deadline by almost a year! That's when he says he had a lightbulb moment. "[I realized] I didn't really need to be on the show to give big," he says.
Trey says he and his friends watch the show every Sunday and discuss how they can give back to their community. "We're going to do Big Gives every month for the upcoming year," he says.
To help him get started, Nate surprises Trey with a stack of cash worth $10,000. Like Shelley, Trey will have five days to make the most of this money. "Every dollar has to go to a perfect stranger," Nate says. "So find somebody, and figure it out."
For his Big Give, Trey chooses the Interfaith House in Chicago, an organization that provides residential care for homeless men and women in medical recovery. Not a minute can be wasted—he only has five days to raise as much money as possible. Within hours of leaving Harpo Studios, Trey has already assembled a team of friends to help him. "We definitely want to make the biggest impact that we can," he says.
Powered by adrenaline, Trey and his team work through the first night. "It was about 4:30 in the morning, and that was when the reality of what happened hit me," he says. "I pretty much lost it. I was on my bedroom floor, fetal positioned, balling my eyes out because at that moment I knew that my life is not going to be the same after this experience."
After dozens of calls, the first donation finally comes in—and it's just the beginning. Trey and his team decide to hold a fundraiser and are able to secure a room at Trump Tower in Chicago for the event. With time running out, the team manages to score big-ticket items for an auction—including a VIP outing event from the Chicago White Sox. The event raises an incredible $100,000 in just two hours!
When all was said and done, Trey raised more than $458,000!
Although he says it was a fun experience, it wasn't without stress. "I realize sometimes you have to spend money to make money," he says. "What was going to happen if I showed up with less money than I started with?" Trey says a $6,000 catering bill really shook him up, but he was reassured in the end. "In the grand scheme of things, it was really just a drop in the bucket compared to what we ended up raising."
Oprah's Big Give has been inspiring people all across America to open their hearts...even in the smallest forms. When Shannon asked her son what he wanted for his fifth birthday, he told her he already had enough toys. So the little guy came up with a big idea—instead of keeping the gifts he received at his birthday party, he wanted to give them away to kids in need.
Inspired by her son's big heart, Shannon called a church to find a family who needed help. She was introduced to Tamela, a single mother of four living in a home without so much as a bed to sleep on.
Word spread fast, and soon donations were pouring in for Drew's Big Give. Gifts for Tamela included bunk beds for her children, an entertainment center, two couches, a television and a bedroom set. "Who would have thought that a 5-year-old's birthday party would furnish apartments and pay bills and renew hope and faith and change the lives of so many people?" Shannon says.
Tamela was overwhelmed. "It was almost like angels just dropped out of the sky."
Tamela's family wasn't the only one helped through Drew's Big Give. After the birthday party, Drew's pastor challenged the community to donate. Within hours, hundreds of people were pulling up to the church, giving clothing, food and more.
Through the donations, a family in need received diapers and other necessities for their new baby. Another family, who had lost everything in a fire, was given mattresses and furniture for their rental home.
Hundreds of people were helped, and it all began with one little boy. "If we give people what we really like, then they might give us something better, like the good feeling in our hearts," Drew says.
Shannon and her husband, Jeff, say they have raised $18,000 in cash donations and about $10,000 more in furniture and other donations. Drew and his family say they don't plan to quit anytime soon. "I thought it would end pretty quickly after his birthday," Shannon says. "Jeff said to me, 'Eventually, we're going to run out of people to give to.' And I said, 'I hope we run out of people to give to before we run out of people who are giving.'"
To spread the giving spirit across the country, 90 ABC stations across the United States were given $10,000 each to launch Big Give movements in their own communities. Everyone did an amazing job, but one city went above and beyond! The residents of Fort Wayne, Indiana, decided to raise money to build 40 miles of walking and bike trails—and they gave in a big way.
After five weeks of fundraising, thousands of residents—including members of the Indianapolis Colts football team—gathered to hear the grand total. In all, the city raised more than $1.2 million!
In early April 2008, Lisa Ling brought viewers into the horrific world of puppy mills— bad breeders who subject their animals to inhumane conditions. She also showed what happens when dogs have no one to adopt them and reported that tens of thousands of dogs are euthanized in shelters every year.
The response was inspiring. Shelters reported being inundated with prospective owners eager to adopt and donate. The Oprah Show also heard from pet store owners who say they do not go to puppy mills for their puppies. One said he'd even experienced some violence at his store. Do your research and ask your local pet store owners where their puppies come from. Responsible owners should be happy to address your concerns. "And, as always, violence is never a solution," Oprah says.
After that show, Oprah drops in on a no-kill shelter near Harpo Studios. At PAWS Chicago, homeless animals are not kept in cages. Instead, they have their own rooms and even have a rooftop deck where they can frolic. If they require veterinary care or even surgery, PAWS Chicago provides it. "We want the animals to feel comfortable, and we want the animals to stay healthy," says Paula Fasseas, founder of PAWS Chicago. "We will do whatever it takes to save these animals."
Oprah is so impressed with PAWS Chicago that she pulls her own Big Give and sponsors a room, dedicating it to the memory of her beloved dog Sophie. She also delivers a $10,000 check from Target.
After a makeover, "Sophie's Room" truly has gone to the dogs. "It's amazing," Paula from PAWS Chicago says. The new room is outfitted with a bed, a doghouse, plenty of toys and a tribute photo of Sophie.
It even passes its first test. RJ and Rochelle, the room's first residents, love it!
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