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Marlo Thomas and Celebrity Friends Extend Charity Beyond the Holidays


Actress and best-selling author Marlo Thomas is urging American children to continue giving thanks and giving to others -- even though the holiday season is over. That is the objective behind her new collection of stories, poems and drawings for kids titled Thanks and Giving: All Year Long. Ms. Thomas is donating profits from the book to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, which was founded by her father, the late Danny Thomas. The hospital was created with the idea that no children would ever be turned away because they could not afford to pay.

Thanks and Giving was based on an effort with the same name, which was launched by St. Jude Hospital. "We wanted to remind people to be thankful for the children in their lives who are healthy and give to the kids who are not," explains Ms. Thomas. "When we started that campaign, I thought it would be great to do a children's project about these things kids think about and worry about -- like bullies in the neighborhood, kids who aren't giving -- because it's really about sharing and community."

The book includes selections by a host of famous names -- from children's author Maurice Sendak to Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons. Actress Whoopi Goldberg contributed "Christmas and My Magic Mom," a true story from her childhood. "Whoopi wrote about her own life and how they didn't have much money," says Ms. Thomas. "But her mother figured out how to make Christmas happen for her and her brother, and just the magic involved in how her mother did that."

Other entries use humor to make their point. Wayne Brady performs "Unsung Heroes," a rap song written by Christopher Cerf and Norman Stiles in praise of buttons, bottle caps and other objects that make everyday life so much easier. Whatever the style and tone, Marlo Thomas believes the selections in the book reflect the same spirit that has made St. Jude a leading American children's hospital for more than 40 years. "St. Jude is about giving from the moment that you get there," she says. "We pay for the travel. We pay for your housing. We pay for all the food and all the treatment. And it's nonprofit. We're not in there to make money. We're in there to spend money and save lives."

Danny Thomas established St. Jude Hospital as a way of giving thanks during a difficult time in his life. "Danny was down and out, went to pray in a church to St. Jude, and the next day he got his first break," says David McKee, chief operating officer for the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. The group coordinates fundraising activities for the hospital. Mr. Thomas, who was Lebanese American, had made a promise, says Mr. McKee, "that if St. Jude would show him a way in life he'd build him a shrine."

That shrine turned out to be a hospital that has become famous not only for its generous spirit but for its cutting edge research. St. Jude has made breakthroughs in the fight against childhood leukemia and other illnesses, and it shares its findings with doctors around the world. Because it is such a costly hospital to operate, fundraising campaigns are a way of life -- from nationwide television specials to local golf tournaments to regional telemarketing events. "The biggest one," says David McKee, "is our math-a-thons. We're in 22,000 schools, and the kids get math books that we provide. They solve problems and make pledges, and raise money that way. So there's just a variety. Our average donation is $25."

For help with the hospital's current "Thanks and Giving" campaign, St. Jude turned to high profile businesses -- from Federal Express to Athletes Foot shoe stores to Parade magazine. "We asked all these people to help us spread the word of St. Jude, help us raise money in their stores," says Marlo Thomas. "Parade put us on the cover. The Today show [on NBC television] had us on for six days, Time, Incorporated put ads in all their magazines -- all these different ways to build awareness and raise funds for St. Jude."

Ms. Thomas hopes her book will not only help the hospital, but also turn young people into lifelong givers. She recalls a childhood memory from golf champion Tiger Woods that underlines the idea that giving can be fun. "He heard about the children in Ethiopia on television," she says, "and gave his piggybank to his father and said, 'Give this to the kids over there' because they were all starving, We all realize when we grow older that, yes, every person can make a difference. But for a kid to understand that early is a real gift."

Danny Thomas used to tell his daughter that there are two kinds of people in the world, the takers and the givers. The takers sometimes eat better, he would say, but the givers always sleep better. In Thanks and Giving: All Year Long, Marlo Thomas has drawn together some of America's best known performers, writers and athletes, with their own version of that same message.
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