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‘Spreading Joy for Joe’ Helping Families Spending Holidays in Hospital

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PLEASANT HILL, Iowa -- The holiday season is supposed to be about all things joyful,

But for one Des Moines metro mother, Christmas is one of the toughest times of the year after losing her 16-year-old son in a tragic car accident on Christmas Eve two years ago.

Southeast Polk's Joseph Livingston was traveling with his older sister, Maddie, when a wintery road caused an accident. Joseph was killed instantly. His sister, spent a month in the hospital at UnityPoint Health Des Moines recovering from life-threatening injuries.

Now the family is assisting others in similar situations around the holidays to hopefully help them find joy in some of the darkest of times.

"Joseph, ever since he was little, always made a Christmas list and would send it to me in August of every year,” Amber Leigh Hayes said. “Even when he was 16 he sent me a Christmas list a few months ahead of time. It was just so darn cute, or he would write it out and put it on the fridge."

But that list stopped when he was 16-years-old, on Christmas Eve.

"Christmas will never be the same for any of us,” Hayes said.

His mom is keeping Joseph's Christmas list alive in a different kind of way, with a list of items they are collecting to donate to UnityPoint Health’s Blank Children's Hospital.

"As a grieving mother, I knew that I had to find some kind of a guiding light to help me move forward, to help me along in my grieving process. I wanted to help others in Joseph's memory," Hayes said.

In her first year creating the nonprofit group, “Spreading Joy for Joe,” the family donated over 200 bags of toys, art supplies, blankets, and toiletry items. They were all items that Hayes and the rest of her family appreciated in their month-long stay with Maddie in the hospital.

"On Christmas morning a nurse came in and brought her a Christmas blanket and covered her up. We weren't even sure if she was going to make it at that point,” Hayes said. “It was very severe. Just having a Christmas blanket on her, it was just such a nice warm gesture."

They are hoping to pass on that warm gesture to more families this year, spreading joy for Joe for a second season.

"Overwhelms our hearts I would say, just how this Des Moines community brings in donations and helps our department function and spread joy all year long actually, not just during the holiday season,” Hayes said.

This year the family is asking for donations of blankets, books, and teddy bears. They are asking for the blankets and teddy bears to be brand new, the books can be slightly used.

The family is accepting donations at three different drop-off locations.

  • Hy-Vee, 108 Eighth St. S.W., Altoona
  • Brick House Fitness, 86 Paine St. S.E., Bondurant
  • Somewhere in the Middle Coffee Shop, 106 First St. S.E., Bondurant

They also have Venmo for those wanting to contribute @JoyForJoe. Hayes said that money will go towards purchasing needed toiletry items for family members staying in the hospital.

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