Difference Maker of the Year: Becky Winters ‘I promise you, without fail, that the blessings that you offer will come back to you…’
A decade ago, the 2019 Difference Maker of the Year published the very first list of needs for the newly created program Project Christmas Promise.
Becky Winters shared that a family with six children was in need of clothing. A 3-year-old girl who enjoyed puzzles, and an 11-year-old boy who loved music were also among those who could wake up Christmas morning to a bare tree.
“We desire that they are not forgotten,” Winters told the Daily American Republic at that time, about the program she helped create to ensure no child in Butler County ever went without on Christmas morning.
Winters was named Difference Maker of the Year on Thursday during a banquet held at the Holiday Inn. She was selected from a group of 10 finalists who have each, in their own way, helped change the face of their communities for the better.
“All of our finalists have touched many lives in our area,” said DAR Publisher Chris Pruett, in making the announcement. “They do their volunteer work not because they’re asked to, but because they have a passion for making our community better.”
Winters was taught from an early age about compassion and servitude, and has been instrumental in many areas, including helping children at Christmas, with volunteer coordination after local disasters and providing mentors and tutors to youth, Pruett said.
Winters said after the announcement, she was overwhelmed by the recognition.
“I am proud, because of all those people that have put me in a position to be able to do what I do,” Winters said after the announcement. “It makes me proud that hopefully I’m making them proud.”
Project Christmas Promise was inspired by Winters’ experiences in high school. The Beta Club in Holcomb did a similar effort, on a smaller scale.
“When I saw there was a need, our school counselors were trying to coordinate this themselves, on top of everything else they do, we came together and talked about how great it would be if we had kind of a central place that could serve as a corner stone,” Winters said.
Winters raised money, and organized the collection and purchase of not only toys, but also clothing in 2009, allowing presents to be delivered to about 130 children that year.
Project Christmas Promise, now in its 10th year, serves more than 1,000 children annually.
She also served then and since as the bell ringing coordinator for the Salvation Army’s annual red kettle collections in Poplar Bluff each holiday season. Winters additionally is an active member of the Poplar Bluff Rotary and its efforts to support good behavior programs in the Poplar Bluff School District.
It is estimated the combined Project Christmas Promise and Salvation Army bell ringing efforts raise about $100,000 a year, through cash donations, and the collection of toys and clothing.
The volunteers came together and have allowed the program to expand, Winters said.
“As typically is the case, the Lord provides what is needed. As those needs have grown, the donors have grown,” she said.
That estimate comes from annual bell ringing campaigns that generate about $45,000 a year, which support Salvation Army efforts in Poplar Bluff year-round for things like utility and medication assistance.
“We’re very fortunate people are so giving with their time to ring the bell,” Winters said in 2012. “That’s what really makes our campaign successful.”
Project Christmas Promise has also estimated that each child served receives, conservatively, $50 in donated toys and clothing.
By Dec. 24, of that first year, the community had already rallied to the cause.
A mother and her children received not only gifts, but a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments from one donor.
Another gifted a different family with all of the ingredients of a holiday dinner.
And a soldier fighting in Afghanistan read about the program and called with a promise that his father would drop off a check. Donating, he said, at the time, made him feel closer to home.
Project Christmas Promise is an effort that has for 10 years touched many hearts, not only of the children and families served, but of the community members who responded to the call.
“We are really fortunate to live where we do and have such a good spirit of helpfulness,” Winters said in 2011.
By 2014, the program had delivered more than 9,400 gifts to Butler County children, through the generosity of area residents.
“I recognize we have a lot of needs locally — many are not blessed with the same comforts in life that I enjoy. I want to share what I can,” Winters said, when she was interviewed as a finalist for the 2019 Difference Maker of the Year.
Winters is program director for AmeriCorps, which operates under the umbrella of the Poplar Bluff School District.
Winters was nominated by co-worker Tim Krakowiak.
“Becky doesn’t celebrate with her own family until every child on her list receives his or her gifts. I have seen that first hand,” Krakowiak told DAR staff. “When people don’t have transportation to pick up their boxes, and a volunteer isn’t available, Becky and her family make the deliveries. We call her Mrs. Claus. I have known of times she and her kids were still delivering gifts on Christmas Day.”
Winters is married to Poplar Bluff City Planner Matt Winters. They have a daughter, Madelyn, and a son, Jackson, who are both in college.
“I stand on the shoulders of a lot of good people, and many of them are in this room tonight,” Winters said. “I promise you, without fail, that the blessings that you offer will come back to you three times. That’s just how it works.”