Tonya Hayes didn’t get off to the best start with the man in his mid forties. She was in the studio at WAY-FM, making calls to vet possible recipients for their Christmas Prayers program. Each year, the station teams up with Trideum Foundation, Dynetics, Intergraph along with a few other businesses and churches to provide for families in need.
Tonya called this one man, but he couldn’t hear her over the phone. She yelled. He yelled back—in four-letter words we can’t put in print. Clearly, he desperately needed hearing aids. The man had been deaf his entire life, living in a constant state of aggravation. After finally communicating, they were able to get him two hearing aids for Christmas.
A few days later, the man and his mother stopped by the radio station to thank them for their gift. It was January, when Huntsville gets hit with our annual crummy weather. A mix of ice and rain were hitting his mother’s car as they sat outside the station. As the tiny balls of ice hit the windshield, the man ducked down, covering his head and cowering in his seat. He had never heard the sound of ice hitting a windshield before.
There are certain things we take for granted that mean so much to other people. We curse the ice in the winter, not thinking about how it would be to never hear it hit the windshield. We get angry over the power bill when others are going without heat.
Hearing aids, help with utility bills—just a few wishes that have come in to WAY-FM’s Christmas Prayers program over the past 14 years. Of course, they provide toys for families in need, but they also help with things when life snowballs out of control for area families.
“It’s really about the heart,” Tonya said. “It’s about the vessels we are for God. We’re the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Tonya said each year seems to follow a trend. One year, everyone needed help with their car titles. Another, it was food support. This year, there are a number of single mothers who need help.
The No-Makeup Advice
Every holiday season, the station gets emails from about 300 families. Several people read each letter—corporate sponsors, station employees and volunteers—and rate them by urgency. Then, they call and vet families to make sure the requests are legitimate.
Often, life events have gotten out of control—a washing machine breaks, then the car stops running, then the dishwasher starts making that weird noise. Things build and build until there is no more money to pay for a ramp when a family member ends up in a wheelchair.
The stories are so relatable, so heartbreaking, that the women at WAY-FM have to take unusual precautions before they call families.
“We stop wearing makeup,” Tonya said. “It’s very personal to these people. Some know. Some have written the story. Some have no idea, so those are taken off guard. It’s very personal. Some are just speechless. Other times, they cry because someone has noticed that they are hurting, and they need to be shown some love and compassion. Then, they are blown away that someone would do that for them.”
In a lot of ways, this is a handout for families who need it. But in other ways, it’s just a little help until things get better. That’s why it’s so important for Tonya and her team to treat the families with the utmost compassion and professionalism.
“You have to respect them,” Tonya said. “You have to respect their dignity.”
When Tough Guys Cry
Tonya remembers the biggest man she ever saw cry. He was 6 feet, 4 inches of bulging muscle. As they took bags and bags of toys out to the car for him, he stood in the doorway crying.
It’s not uncommon to see fathers cry when they pick up toys for their kids. The mothers are a bit emotional, but Tonya said it’s the fathers who really break down. While the WAY-FM team packs cars full of toys and bicycles, they also stop for a moment to pray with the parents.
“They’re so thankful and happy that on Christmas morning they’re going to have something under the tree,” Tonya said.
It Takes A Village
A portion of the Christmas Prayers program is funded by individual donations, but the rest comes from corporate sponsors.
“They are the hands and the feet, the hope and the help,” Tonya said about the companies that contribute to Christmas Prayers.
Other churches also help with the event. Calvary Assembly hosts an annual Christmas production, where the proceeds help multiple families. This year, they will provide Christmas presents for a family who recently lost their father, and vehicle hand controls for a woman who needs them to drive.
Businesses also donate to Christmas Prayers. It’s these donated services that increase the number of families they’re able to help each year. For example, if WAY-FM raises $10,000 to help families, but companies and individuals donate $50,000 in labor and materials, they can help that many more people.
We, at the Community Journal are proud to share this story of how several businesses and churches in our area come together for one cause—Christmas Prayers. We hope you’ll consider joining WAY-FM in making dreams come true.