A waitress at the Taneytown Pizza Hut earned a $250 holiday bonus and promptly gave it to the Jim Stein Foundation, asking only for anonymity.
For the past year, donation jars with the Stein family photograph have dotted counters in shops and restaurants throughout Westminster. Almost every month, some organization somewhere in Carroll County holds a dinner or a play to benefit the New Windsor man who is suffering from leukemia.
Like the pizza server, most have not met Stein, a 40-year-old father of three children who range in age from 7 years to 15 years. But, as his plight illustrates, this is a community helping one of its own.
"A waitress must have needed the money, but she gave it to us," said Stein, a self-employed automotive painter who developed positive acute lymphocytic leukemia in November 1999 and lost his livelihood almost overnight.
Stephanie Stein, Jim's wife of 12 years and a stay-at-home mom, said, "This generosity is a lesson we are learning. It comes from the everyday people. We don't even have to ask. We are blessed that people care enough to take care of us."
At the grocery store, the bakery and the fast-food restaurant, Stephanie Stein, 37, sees a picture of her smiling family of five pasted on jars asking for spare change.
"It is strange to see your face plastered on a donation jar, but we know the Lord is touching hearts," she said. "We know that many of these people don't have money to give, but they have given and given."
When her husband became ill, her first instinct was to get a job, she said. But, with the outpouring of help, she has been able to stay at his side through months of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant which, the couple learned a few months ago, had failed.
The blood disease has progressed to the stage "where doctors say that I can go anytime," Jim Stein said. He can make such devastating statements with a soft chuckle because faith sustains him, he says.
An experimental drug is staving off leukemia for now, restoring a rosy glow to Stein's complexion and giving him a boost of energy he has not felt in months. For now, the medication known as STI-571 is working, but doctors at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center do not consider it a long-term cure.
"I am the picture of health and I feel great," he said. "If I only had stamina, I feel like I could go out and work."
But months of chemotherapy have weakened him. To provide for his family, he must rely on the kindness of others, among them Mildred Doehrer, a 75-year-old retired teacher who established the foundation. She tends the donation jars and coaxes others into organizing fund-raisers.
Doehrer met the Steins when her husband was recovering from cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The couples found they were all members of the Church of the Open Door in Westminster and they struck up a friendship. Doehrer, who often returned to the hospital to visit the Steins, knew money problems weighed heavily on them.
"His was the only income, and I knew they would need money to pay their daily expenses," Doehrer said. "Stephanie told me she couldn't ask. I said, 'May I?' Then, I set up the foundation."
Pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners and church yard sales followed, generating money that freed the Steins from the worry of daily living expenses.
Volunteers have filled the Steins' pantry to overflowing and lent them a freezer to store months of meals. They have spelled for Stephanie Stein during her husband's lengthy hospital stays, helped with driving and organized a 12-day family trip to Florida during the Christmas holidays.
The fund balance is about $3,000, but it has climbed to as much as three times that amount during what Doehrer has called the fund-raising season, which she plans to reopen soon.
"Jim has a real heart for people, especially children, and he was always doing for them," Doehrer said. "It comes around. Now people are doing for him."
Before he became ill, Stein helped with the church's bus ministry, driving as many as 50 underprivileged children to Sunday services each week.
Stein's illness has taught him to take each day as a gift. If he recovers, he plans a career in the ministry. "I am just living life, not running a marathon," he said. "This has given a whole new meaning to live each day as it comes."
Information: 410-861-8025 or www.jimsteinfoundation.com.