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McCaleb: Humbled by ‘12 Days of Giving’

The holidays are over.

We’re almost a week into the new year.

A new Congress was sworn in last week. (Though it looks a lot like the old Congress.)

A new General Assembly will be seated this week. (Ditto the above.)

I feel like I should use this space to look forward into 2013, perhaps preach about what needs to be done to fix our state’s and our nation’s many economic woes.

But the fact is, I don’t want to.

I don’t feel like getting on my soapbox today. I’m tired of all the partisanship and fiscal cliff nonsense. Plus, I’ve still got a bit of that holiday cheer lingering.

So, taking the lead of both Congress and the state Legislature, I think I’ll kick that can down the road a little longer.

Luckily for me, a heartwarming local story just fell into my lap.

Krista and Michael Kneip, siblings from Algonquin, were generous enough to share with our readers the details of the surprising “12 Days of Giving” they’ve just experienced.

First, some background ...

Last May, the Kneips’ mother, Karen, lost her three-year battle with lung cancer.

A dental hygienist with offices in Crystal Lake and Elgin, Karen Kneip was an outgoing, caring person – “an extrovert to a fault,” as daughter Krista described her. She was well-thought-of in the community and had many friends.

When Karen died, Krista, 23, a master’s student at Aurora University, and Michael, 22, a senior at Eastern Illinois University, were devastated.

“Although we always knew her time with us was limited, we never expected her to be taken from us so soon,” said Krista, a Jacobs High School graduate along with her brother.

Through Jacobs, the Kneip family had a large circle of friends. The brother and sister were involved in sports and community service projects, and their mom participated with them. After Karen passed, Krista and Michael were overwhelmed with support from that network.

Phone calls.

Visits.

Casserole dinners.

But as time passed, life went on. So it was with Krista and Michael Kneip, and their community of friends.

As December approached, though, the Kneip children realized they were about to spend their first Christmas without their mom. The holidays often are harder on families shortly after losing a loved one. It’s part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

When not in school, they’ve continued to live in their mother’s Algonquin home, although it now is going through the foreclosure process. They both go to college, are without full-time jobs, and can’t pay the mortgage. Times were tough.

Beginning Dec. 17, however, something special started to happen.

On that Monday night, a secret Santa visited Krista and Michael. The doorbell rang, and they found a China-doll Santa on their doorstep. Inside were hundreds of dollars in gift cards. But there was no sign of the gift giver.

“I searched and searched for a name tag, but there was no shred of evidence as to whom this generous gift came from,” Krista wrote to the newspaper. “The next night, I received an anonymous text from Secret Santa himself letting me know he paid my house another visit. And then he came again, and again. For 12 days, his gifts magically appeared.”

In all, more than $3,000 in gift cards, cash and other presents were left.

“We were stunned,” Krista told me.

With the last visit last week, the Kneips were feeling overwhelmed. That’s when the organizer of what has been dubbed “The 12 Days of Giving” decided it was time to share the secret.

“They were really feeling like they had to thank someone, so that’s when I decided to let them know,” Debbie Krukowski of Algonquin said.

The idea started out as a simple – and much smaller – one.

“During the summer, I started thinking about them,” said Krukowski, mother of one of Krista’s close friends. “Two college kids who just lost their mother, pretty much on their own, living in a house that’s about to be foreclosed on.”

Krukowski mentioned to a few friends that she wanted to do something special for the Kneips for Christmas.

“All of a sudden, it turned into this huge community event with four main groups of people spreading the word among their group of friends,” Krukowski said. “It seemed like everyone wanted to contribute something, many of them anonymously. All of a sudden, I was collecting quite a bit.”

Why the outpouring of support and generosity?

Karen’s “children are a great example of her. They are polite, outgoing. They’re such good kids,” Krukowski said. “So I thought, ‘How can we help?’ We just wanted to give something back. ... I grew up in the city, and this would never have happened in the city. This shows how much they mean to us.”

Krukowski said she’s confident the Jacobs community will step up again if Krista and Michael lose their home. The Kneips, of course, are beyond thankful.

“They have brought back the magic of Christmas to our family,” Krista wrote. “They have reminded us that even when life turns out to be the exact opposite of what you imagined, there are still people who will be by your side in times of need. Their kind and thoughtful gifts have literally changed our lives. ... This year, our mom spent her first Christmas with Jesus, and I am confident that they are both looking down with pride on everyone who has made this Christmas unforgettable, not because it was the first Christmas our mom was not with us, but because Christmas is the season for giving, and they have outdone themselves.”

Best wishes to Krista and Michael Kneip, and my thanks to them for sharing another great story about the wonderful people who live in our community.

• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4604, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @NWHeditor.

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