After a deadly tornado tore through Mayfield, Kentucky earlier this month, devastating the small town, one resident grew concerned that children in his community would be suffering this Christmas. So he decided to do something about it.
Shawn Triplett, a retired U.S. Marine Corps veteran who now volunteers at a local elementary school, told People Magazine he was spurred into action after witnessing a heartbreaking interaction between a mother and her young son while helping out at a church shelter.
"I saw a child, no older than 6 years old, crying in his mother's arms," Triplett, 38, recalled. "She was crying too, but you could tell she was doing her best to look strong. The boy told his mom, 'I've lost my Christmas.' It was at that moment that I broke down and had to walk outside."
The family had been displaced as part of the devastating impact of the massive storm, which has killed at least 88 people and displaced hundreds more across the South and Midwest. Triplett's hometown was one of the ones hit hardest. The Marine — who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — said the destruction from the storm was the worst he'd ever seen.
"I've been deployed three times, I've seen war zones, I've seen absolute destruction, and nothing compared to it," he said in an interview with CNN. "I mean, the whole town was just leveled."
"It gut-punched me," Triplett went on to say about the young boy he saw crying. "I felt actual pain at that moment. I tried to sleep that night but I couldn't. The pain in that kid's voice broke me in half. I had to do something about it."
After thinking long and hard about what he could do, Triplett said he finally decided, "I was going to give them back their Christmas. That was my mission."
So Triplett, moved to compassion by the distress of others, decided to start raising money to make sure Mayfield children receive gifts this Christmas.
It started out as a $10,000 fundraising initiative put on by Triplett and his friends and family. But soon, after the message was spread around on social media, the movement grew. By Christmas Eve, nearly $100,000 had been raised after people from all across the country joined the effort.
"It's been unreal," he said of the support. "It started as just family and friends helping, to now donations coming in from all over the globe."
On a GoFundMe page that Triplett started, the Marine explained that he is simply raising funds to buy toys for Mayfield children who are currently living in shelters, temporary government housing, or staying with family and friends.
With the donation money in hand, Triplett himself made countless runs to a local Walmart, which offered to cover 25% of the cost. There, he filled carts to the brim with toys of all kinds — later wrapping them with gift paper he purchased himself.
The Marine made sure to note that he didn't keep any of the proceeds for himself. Rather, he made every effort to use every last penny for children in his community. He told People that he was overwhelmed by the generosity of others and overjoyed to have been able to help even more kids than he had imagined.
"Our original goal was to support 30 kids, but because of the GoFundMe, we're able to reach hundreds of kids — and that's my biggest joy, being able to give these kids so much," he told People. "The support has been humbling and overwhelmingly incredible."
"To all those who have helped with your donations, your time, even just by sharing the cause, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart," he added. "Everything you have done for this cause has meant the world to me. Children need to be children, they don't need to be reminded of trauma every day."
That's especially true on Christmas.
End Credits: Shawn Triplett Takes Poignant Photo, Uses it to Drive GoFundMe for Toys for Children www.youtube.com