Oprah Winfrey show money grows 50-fold

SAN JOSE, Calif. — With a $1,000 gift card from Oprah Winfrey and her instructions to use it to help others during the following week, Michelle Hall of the Almaden 1st Ward, San Jose California South Stake, could have done much good.

But in the spirit of the Savior's Parable of the Talents, Sister Hall did more — much, much more.

By the end of the week in early November, she had multiplied the original amount 50-fold, using it for three projects to help others in need. At the same time, as Young Women president in her ward, she took advantage of the opportunity to immerse the ward's youth in service.

Sister Hall was in the studio for the taping of Oprah Winfrey's popular television program on the day the celebrity gave each member of the audience a gift card and the charge to use it for a good cause.

Upon returning home from Chicago, Sister Hall quickly involved others, including many in her ward, in doing what she was asked. The result was about $50,000 in cash, goods and services.

"There were a lot of people involved and a lot of hard work," said her bishop, Steven T. Hayden. "She really wanted to get the youth involved."

Sister Hall quickly identified two charities — Unity Care Group, which helps youth and young adults who have aged-out of the foster-care program, and the San Jose Family Shelter.

Individuals helped call businesses soliciting donations and her project caught the attention of the media. She said during a Church News telephone interview she was "running, running, running," doing radio, television and newspaper interviews. Local radio celebrities challenged listeners to donate. Businesses and individuals responded in a big way.

The Church youth painted, cleaned and put together donated furniture at the Unity Care apartments. At the family shelter, they cleaned, painted and fixed up the child-care area under the direction of Kim Ramirez, another Young Women leader in the ward who is an interior designer. The child-care area received paint and furnishings as well as cribs, bedding and toys.

During the week, another opportunity arose that Sister Hall was able to help with. She said the total of approximately $50,000 collected included matching donations for $14,000 designated for a home for the elderly run by Little Sisters of the Poor in San Francisco.

Sister Hall was especially grateful to have shared the spirit of service with the youth.

"They had fun doing it, I think," she said, adding, "It's made them aware of the need."

The project was taxing on her, she said, but was worth it. "It continues to trickle down," she said. "It has opened the eyes of the community." — Greg Hill