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Paying it forward for the holidays

By KTVA Alaska 7:43 PM December 23, 2013

Alaskans open up hearts and wallets to help strangers in need

ANCHORAGE - Asking for help can be tough thing to do, but Kriselle Arthur said she didn’t have a choice.

She lost her job within weeks of her husband losing his. Arthur, her husband and 4-year-old daughter Layla were evicted from their home a few weeks ago and have been living separately since.

“It’s a very terrible feeling, that you would sit there and think that you can’t support your family,” Arthur said.

Arthur set aside her pride in hopes of finding a way to unite her family for Christmas. She posted a plea on the Anchorage Pay It Forward Facebook page:

“Not sure if I can post this on here or not, but on December 10th, me, my husband and 4 year old daughter got evicted out of our house and we’re now all separated staying with different family friends. If there’s anyone out there who has free toys, a tree, food etc., it would [help] out this holiday season. Thank you and God bless.”

“It’s really hard to ask for help, so when I did I was amazed with the outcome,” Arthur said. “I had people meeting up with me within a couple of hours, to help me with food for my family and presents for my baby. And as you can tell, I got a lot.”

Within hours, her inbox filled up with people wanting to help. Shortly after, a Christmas tree, several toys and Christmas dinner — holiday ham and all — were delivered to the home Arthur was staying in.

But not all of the response was positive. Arthur was heckled by Facebookers who tried to shame her for reaching out for help. Arthur said the negative comments made her feel as if she was being kicked when she was already down, but  said the positive outpouring of support outweighed the negativity by far.

Now, Arthur encourages anyone who needs help to open up about it.

“It’s okay to ask for help if you ever need help,” she said. “There are generous people out there who are willing to help and I definitely got to witness that firsthand.”

One of those generous people happened to be Anchorage Pay It Forward Facebook page founder Deborah Lestenkof.

“It’s up to us, as community members, to make sure there’s no shame in asking,” Lestenkof said.

Lestenkof created the page at the start of December and has seen it grow to nearly 300 members. The idea came to her after she bore witness to how eager Alaskans were to give.

“About a year ago, I had to raise money for a transplant that I’m looking forward to having,” Lestenkof said. “I’m on the national transplant list waiting for a kidney and people were so generous and so wiling to help, so my husband and I said if we can find a way to pay it forward, we’re going to find a way to do it.”

And she found a way, by providing a platform to connect people looking for help with those looking to offer aid.

Because Anchorage has the second highest median household income, residents are more apt to give, said economist Bill Popp.

“We definitely support the less fortunate members of our community, helping them to find those things that they desperately need to make it through our tough winters,” Popp said.

This year, that help extends into the holiday season with the Anchorage Pay It Forward page, which has created a positive cycle of giving within the community.

“The people who have gotten help, it’s so cool to see how they don’t have much but they want to pay it forward in their own way,” Lestenkof said.

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