Once upon a time there was a little girl with long dark hair, brown eyes that opened up to her soul and a smile that radiated throughout the room. Her name was Amanda.

Little Amanda loved to play with dolls and wear pretty dresses. Her mother couldn’t keep up with the pile of laundry that continued to grow as Amanda changed from one beautiful outfit to the next many times throughout the day.

More than anything, Amanda wanted to be a mommy. She loved visiting her mom’s day care where she could play with all the children.

One day, Amanda and her mother were eating at a cafe. A sign on the table caught Amanda’s attention. It was advertising the need for foster families. Since Amanda’s mom already ran a day care center, little Amanda thought their family would be the perfect fit for children in need of a temporary home.

After quickly convincing her mom, Amanda sat down her father and three brothers and told them about the children who were feeling scared and lost and needed their love. The boys were sold.

Amanda and her brothers had many foster siblings throughout the years, and two of those children found their forever family in Amanda’s home.

Little Amanda grew into a teenage girl, loved by her friends and adored by the many little ones she babysat on a regular basis. She began working toward her CPR certification so she could start taking care of the babies in her mother’s day care.

On Nov. 15, 2006, three days after her 16th birthday, Amanda was driving from piano lessons to a nearby town to attend a CPR class. It was dark, so Amanda probably didn’t see the cow on the road until it was too late. Her car ended up crashing into a tree, and 16-year-old Amanda Swanson of Arthur, N.D., was dead at the scene.

A life so full of light, hope and love was suddenly gone.

Her young friends sat together, grieving, in the counselor’s office at Northern Cass High School. Through the pain of their loss, they came up with a plan.

Amanda had once mentioned wanting to collect gifts for all of the kids in the foster care system.

That year, those students collected 1,500 presents. Bobbie Mikulecky, who was like a second mother to Amanda, says her basement was brimming with bags of toys. Bobbie and Amanda’s mom, Christi, sifted through the show of generosity with full hearts knowing that Amanda would have been so incredibly pleased.

Seven years later, Bobbie, Christi and many of those same students still collect gifts for children in Cass, Clay and Traill counties. Different agencies benefit each year, depending on need. Bobbie also saves a few bags of goodies to deliver in the summer when donations are low but need is still high.

The woman who first told me about this effort of love and remembrance, Mary Beth Engelke, says this is a story of tragedy turned to kindness and hope for hundreds if not thousands of children in our area.

These people are working hard to keep Amanda’s passion alive and they would like your help.

Games, balls, toys, infant clothes, baseball caps, gift cards and other unwrapped donations for Amanda’s Hope Chest can be dropped off before Dec. 20 at Mary’s Market in Arthur, Nepstad Oil in Grandin, Northern Cass School, or Dakota Heritage Bank in Hunter.

If you can’t provide a physical donation this year, I hope you’ll give of yourself by sending up a prayer on behalf of Amanda for the many children who could use a little extra love this holiday season or perhaps even a forever family.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.