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5-year-old’s kitty pillow models sacrificial giving

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Southern Baptists mobilized quickly to help displaced hurricane victims, many of whom found themselves left with nothing and no place to turn.

Perhaps no Southern Baptist gave more sacrificially than 5-year-old Danielle Croteau.

Danielle, daughter of Ann and David Croteau, a recent Ph.D. graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, decided to give her most precious possession in hopes that another little girl in New Orleans might be comforted. While others made contributions that were surely greater in size, Croteau’s gift -– a stuffed Hello Kitty pillow she had slept with every night since her third birthday -– stood as a modern-day example of the widow’s mite.

Croteau initially heard about the hurricane disaster when she saw her mother crying after returning from a prayer meeting at North Wake Church in Wake Forest.

“She asked me why I had been crying and I explained that it was a hurricane and what a hurricane was,” Ann Croteau said. “Being curious about it and concerned about it, we went to the computer and pulled up pictures, and she looked through them and started asking questions like, ‘Why are they sitting on the houses? And why don’t the little kids have shoes?’ And so I just showed her and told her.

“The next day after she started thinking about it, she started saying, ‘Maybe I can share my clothes with them because some of them don’t have clothes because their clothes got washed away.’ And so we went through her clothes and filled up three boxes. She would have given more, but I wouldn’t allow her to give her school uniforms and shoes away.”

Danielle didn’t stop there. Moved more and more in her heart to help the hurricane victims, she donated toothbrushes and canned food in subsequent drives at her school.

Her father said he and his wife did not push their daughter to give. Instead, they simply allowed God to do His work in her life.

“As she asked questions, we simply taught her how to see things through God’s eyes,” David Croteau said. “We didn’t force anything extraordinary. We encouraged her as her heart was moved to respond with prayer, thanksgiving and wholehearted giving, if she did give.”

“It was gradual,” Ann Croteau said of her daughter’s desire to share. “As she continued to pray about the needs there, and they had drives at school, her heart just grew to dwell on [the hurricane victims] a lot.”

Finally, Danielle Croteau decided to give up her most treasured belonging to the disaster relief effort.

“I decided [the victims] were taken care of in a lot of ways, and now they really needed toys,” Danielle said. “So I told my mom I wanted to share my favorite Hello Kitty pillow, which I slept with every night, knowing a little girl may have lost everything, maybe even her family, and I could give her something that would make her feel better.”

David Croteau said, “She walked out of her room one night and said, ‘Mom, they have food and they have clothes, but they don’t have any toys.’ And Ann said, ‘Well, they’re not really looking for toys right now. They more need clothes.’ But [Danielle] said, ‘I want them to have toys.’ And she had tears in her eyes. ‘I want them to have toys.’ I think Ann’s first reaction was, ‘OK, well, let’s just wait a few days and see if she still wants to do this.’ So a couple of days later, she said it again -– ‘I want to give my Hello Kitty away.’”

Her parents consented, and having recently heard about Southeastern’s own disaster relief effort to the Gulf Coast region, Operation G.R.A.C.E., the Croteaus sent an e-mail to Southeastern President Daniel Akin asking if Hello Kitty could “hitch a ride” with a student-faculty relief team going to New Orleans.

Akin enthusiastically agreed, inviting Danielle to personally deliver the toy to his office. He was so touched by the gesture that he brought her gift with him to Southeastern’s chapel service, using it to illustrate sacrificial giving to students contemplating how they might be involved in aiding Katrina victims.

“Many times God’s greatest lessons come from unexpected places,” Akin said. “The incredible sacrifice of Danielle is one of those times. Here is a precious little girl who gave all she had to help those who need to know someone cares. Like the widow and her two mites, Danielle gave what she had, and she gave her best. She has become an incredible inspiration to many of us. I know the Lord she loves so much is smiling on this sweet child of His.”

Although she had given generously to this point, giving away her pillow was difficult for Danielle, her mother remembered.

“As we approached the president’s office, Danielle started to regret her decision,” Ann Croteau said. “As I challenged her to only share Hello Kitty if she can share it with her whole heart as a gift from her to another little girl, she prayed and again surrendered something precious to her as a sacrificial gift, knowing how much God has blessed her. She gave it with all of her heart.

“That night was not easy for her to sleep, missing her Hello Kitty, but remembering that it may help another little girl helps a lot. She prayed that night for the little girl and gave Hello Kitty over again.”

Said Danielle: “I love Hello Kitty, and I slept with it every night. It’s very special for me, but I know another little girl will take care of her and it will make her happy.”

On a subsequent trip to see Akin after Southeastern’s mid-December graduation, Danielle brought another gift, this one also the result of God’s work in her life.

“She was sick at the time, and she didn’t like the medicine she was taking,” Ann Croteau recounted. “But I said, ‘Well, some people can’t afford medicine.’ And automatically her brain went to the hurricane victims, and she said, ‘Do they have medicine?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Hopefully they do,’ and she said, ‘Well, I have money for them so that they can have medicine, so they can get better.’ And she brought the piggy bank over and gave it to Dr. Akin.”

Perhaps the most amazing thing is the way in which God has been working in all of the members of the Croteau family on the subject of giving of late. David Croteau recently finished his doctoral dissertation on -– of all things -– a theology of giving.

“[David] came to the same conclusion about sacrificial giving as my 5-year-old daughter has come to,” Ann Croteau said in amazement. “I don’t think it’s by any coincidence; the Lord was working on their character toward the same conclusion.”

“We’ve been in process on this topic of giving for a few years now,” David Croteau acknowledged, “giving sacrificially, giving joyfully and giving generously. So Danielle heard the word ‘stewardship’ explained to her I’m sure at an earlier age than most young people did. [Her giving] put flesh on my academic research over the last three to six years. She kind of put into action what I’ve been trying to write basically, so that’s been neat. I can talk about it academically, but to see my daughter live out what I’m trying to say, that’s really neat.”

Throughout the Katrina disaster, Ann Croteau said she has been amazed at God’s gracious work in her family and how He has used them to minister to others.

“When Hurricane Katrina hit, my heart had so much sorrow,” Croteau said, “but to see my God on an intimate level with my daughter, as she grew in her understanding of compassion, sacrificial giving and thankfulness -– and then on a huge spectrum through Operation G.R.A.C.E., through students, churches and Christians nationwide zealous to do the work of the Father, tending to folks’ physical as well as spiritual and emotional needs -– I am simply taken aback on how huge the God of the Bible is.”

    About the Author

  • Kyle Smith