When a school guidance councilor asked David Karras Jr. to write down a holiday wish, the 8-year-old from Athol thought immediately of his friend whose mother had her water shut off after struggling with bills.
Karras knew they couldn't live there long under those conditions. He wrote on a paper mitten about his desire to help them and hung the modest ornament on a "wishing tree" at Riverbend School.
"I felt bad about my friend because he didn't have water," Karras said. This week, he found out that the Salvation Army had helped raise close to $1,000 to help the family in need.
The wish might not have come true if not for the school's decision to place the proceeds of its holiday food drive below the tree. Salvation Army Lieutenant Michael Buzzard saw the appeals from Karras and his fellow students while picking up donations, and he decided to do something.
Even a man whose job is awash in holiday generosity couldn't help his emotions when he saw the children's wishes. Almost all were focused on helping others; only a few asked for toys.
"I wish that everyone would stop doing drugs," one wish said. "I wish to be back with my family really soon," read another. One simply declared: "NO Pain."
Buzzard went to his car for 20 minutes and cried. The wishes, especially Karras's, made him step back from the work he was doing to distribute aid to struggling families during the holiday season.
"It put it in perspective of why we were putting all this effort in," he said. "For that moment when I saw the tree and the mittens . . . it was about these kids."
Buzzard resolved to find a way to help get the water back on at the trailer home of Karras's friend Kristian Yagovane, who lives in neighboring Orange with his mother Vanessa Mundell.
It wouldn't be an easy task, though. The local Salvation Army was already stretching its resources as far as it could, and the water situation was dire at Mundell's home.
After a long period of struggle, Mundell had seen the bills and fees stack up, she said. And then the pipes froze. They had been going to shower at the home of family members and using jugs of water to wash dishes and drink.
Buzzard asked local businesses and churches to help, and raised a good portion of the money, but he was still short. A "love offering" collection at a Salvation Army service helped make up the difference.
Mundell, who said she is unemployed and seeking work, could not believe the news when Buzzard told her. She knew she couldn't stay at the home with her child if there was no running water.
"There was no way I could pay that off," she said. "As soon as I hung up with him and called my mom, I started bawling telling her about it."
With the bill paid off, she expects to receive some state assistance and volunteer help to get the pipes fixed and the water turned on soon.
For guidance councilor Linda Jaskoviak, the result is a happy bonus after a successful school effort to get kids to think about others during the holiday season. The tree had been up since early December, and the earnest wishes touched many people who passed it.
"It really does provide an opportunity to reflect on what is important in our own lives," she said. "By writing it down, it just adds meaning."
Karras and Yagovane have known each other since they were young. They like to build with Lego, watch movies, and play the video game Skylanders. Like many young friends, they fight sometimes, but Karras was thinking of his pal as Christmas drew near.
"I've been really selfish sometimes to him," Karras said. "I wanted to make it up to him."
Karras's grandmother Mary Caftagnaro said she was filled with pride when she heard about his wish.
"He could have asked for anything in the world," she said, "and he thought of his friend instead."