Help in healing
Leah Avril’s sister and niece are honoring her memory by helping to see that kids who find themselves at the local domestic violence shelter have toys.
Amy Thomason, Avrils’ sister, and Haley, Leah’s 9-year-old niece, were just hoping to get 100 toys to take to SafeSpace when they started seeking donations this past November. They got more than 300.
Haley said she couldn’t believe it when they laid the toys out at their home to see how many they had.
“I was screaming,” Haley said. "We didn’t have enough room to put them on the floor, we had to put them on the couch."
Leah died Nov. 17, 2009, when Jacob Stanton shot her while they were alone in a Murrell Meadows apartment. A Sevier County jury convicted him last year of second-degree murder.
Amy and Haley chose the anniversary of Leah's death to start seeking donations.
“That day is really sad for us,” Amy said. “We always go to her resting place and light candles at the time it happened.”
Last year was the first time they could do something official in her honor; previously they had been asked not to do so because Stanton’s trial had not taken place.
With that behind them, they wanted to find a way to honor Leah and to do something positive during the somber days around the anniversary.
It was Haley’s idea to find a way to give toys to kids who need them, and they came up with SafeSpace after giving it some thought.
In addition to collecting toys, they got some to give themselves — including some teddy bears Haley built herself and added to the collection.
Director Van Wolfe noted they often have mothers who have left an abusive situation with just the clothes on their backs — meaning no toys for the kids nor anything else.
Having something for Christmas for some of those families was a blessing, she said, and the toys that weren’t used that way will be kept at the shelter for other kids who come in throughout the year.
Amy and Haley put signs up at a number of area banks and businesses, asking customers donate toys or give money.
Wolfe said they were also surprised to see how nice the toys were.
“We were thinking that maybe they would not be such expense toys or just something to throw in the box,” she said. "These were nice toys.”
Amy and Haley don’t mean for this to be a one-time thing. They are already planning to do it again next year.
“I think it helps us heal,” Amy said.