Texas 10-year-old sells candles to help tornado-ravaged Kansas town

By Susan DeMatteo
Catholic News Service

ATHENS — Rebecca Bowles might be going door to door in Texas but she’s selling candles for Kansas — Greensburg, Kan., to be precise, a town all but wiped off the map by a May 4 tornado.

Rebecca, 10, is a parishioner at Mary, Queen of Heaven in Malakoff whose desire to do something for victims of the storm was sparked when she heard her pastor, Father Anthony McLaughlin, talk about the disaster in a homily.

“I just wanted to help all those people,” said Rebecca, a student at St. Gregory Catholic School in Tyler. “I want them to be able to rebuild their town the way it used to be.”

Greensburg, a town of about 1,500 people, has a lot of rebuilding to do. Reports estimate that about 95 percent of the town was destroyed, including St. Joseph Church, which had only a memorial bell and a statue of St. Joseph in the exterior niche of a wall that was left standing.

“I’d be pretty devastated if something like that happened here,” Rebecca told Catholic East Texas, the newspaper of the Tyler Diocese. “The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do something to help.”

The desire to do “something” coalesced into the idea of selling candles.

“At first, she just thought about buying candles and decorating them to sell,” said Cecilia Bowles, Rebecca’s mother. “We’d been to a crafts demonstration about decorating candles, and she decided that was something she could do.”

But as they talked about it, she said, “we realized it would be a lot cheaper if we made the candles ourselves rather than buying them. That way, all the money she raised could go to Greensburg.”

The Monday after school was out for the summer, the project was launched.

“We started melting wax in the kitchen,” Cecilia Bowles recalled. “The kitchen was a waxy mess for days!”

And a few mistakes were made.

“We decided to make candles of all kinds, just to have a variety,” Cecilia Bowles said. “So we made the jar candles, tapers and votives. But the wax got so hot that we melted all the little votive molds. We kind of had to improvise there.”

In the end they made about 85 candles. With the help of a friend from her parish, Rebecca loaded candles into a red wagon and went door to door, explaining who she was and what she was doing. She also has sold them at her church.

“People have responded positively,” Rebecca said. “I think maybe at first they were surprised by what I was doing, but we’ve gotten a lot of support. I think people want to help, especially once they know what it’s for.”

She also has gotten support from her family, which, besides her mother, includes her father, Dr. David Bowles, an Athens physician, and two older sisters.

“We just all think it’s incredible that she’s doing this,” said Cecilia Bowles, adding that her daughter came up with it all on her own.

“We have friends in Colorado who had one relative killed in the tornado and (another injured), so I think it was a little personal for her there,” she said. “But, you know, for a 10-year-old to come up with an idea like this just because she wants to help a town rebuild, I think that’s something special.”

So does Father McLaughlin.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” he said, “especially from our Catholic understanding of faith in action. And that’s what she’s doing, isn’t it? She has made that leap from a desire to help, which is natural human compassion, to the actual practice of charity, of reaching out to neighbors in need and helping them. And that’s what we’re all called to do, really.”

He also said Rebecca is an example to those older than she is.

“I think so many of us adults tend to get paralyzed by inaction when we see a disaster of that magnitude,” Father McLaughlin said. “We look at the pictures in our newspapers or on our televisions, and we think, ‘There’s nothing I can do in the face of that!'”

He added that Rebecca is “too young, too innocent, to think she can’t help, so she doesn’t let that fear stop her. And that’s a wonderful lesson for all us grown-ups, isn’t it?”

Rebecca planned to continue to sell her candles throughout the summer, charging $5-$10 for them. The money ultimately will be forwarded to Catholic Charities USA to be disbursed through its disaster relief fund.

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Editor’s Note: More information about Rebecca’s candles is available by e-mailing her at: rebel37@gmail.com.

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