By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Writer
When Tina Wooten McDaniel petitioned her 500 Facebook friends last year to send Valentine cards to her little sister Tabby, she had no idea that she had started a tradition that would touch people all over the nation and bring inexplicable joy to her family.
Tabby is 46 years old and has profound Down Syndrome as well as Alopecia, a condition that causes complete hair loss.
McDaniel and Tabby’s other big sister, Teressa Wooten Hollis, are always looking for opportunities to make Tabby happy and to return the love that she gives so freely.
McDaniel has been growing her hair out in order to have a wig made for Tabby, and the whole family celebrates every holiday, because even the smallest ones are important to Tabby.
“She has always loved every holiday, not just Valentine’s Day,” said McDaniel. “If it’s Columbus Day, she expects us to do something.”
Last January, Tabby told McDaniel she wanted “muches hearts,” so McDaniel took to Facebook to make it happen.
“Tabby received 2,999 cards last year, and we thought that was a lot,” said McDaniel.
While 3,000 Valentines is impressive by almost any standard, it pales in comparison to the most recent count of 19,869 cards that Tabby has received this year. This number does not include the gifts sent by people from all over the country – stuffed animals, flowers, balloons, jewelry, and more.
One of Tabby’s most prized gifts came from Auburn University head football coach Gus Malzahn, who sent a signed photograph of himself and another of himself with Aubie, the team’s mascot.
“Tabby is a huge Auburn fan, and she won’t even wear anything red,” McDaniel said.
Another special gift came from Nick Downs, founder of a paranormal investigation team called Paranormal L.I.G.H.T.S in Lincoln, Neb. Downs heard about Tabby’s plea for Valentines through a mutual friend of the Wooten family and was excited to help.
“Paranormal L.I.G.H.T.S enjoys participating in acts of kindness,” said Downs, who also got his employer, GNS Vapor, involved in the Hearts for Tabby project.
Downs created several card designs, and customers of GNS Vapor signed about 3,500 copies of those cards as they shopped in the store.
“We explained the cause and no one refused,” said Downs.
Paranormal L.I.G.H.T.S also sent Tabby a specially made coffee mug, which is now available in their online gift shop at www.cafepress.com/paranormallights.
Tabby also received cards from Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, and an actor from the popular television series, Dr. Who.
A local personalization boutique, Just Name It, is having a shirt printed in Tabby’s size and favorite color with a special quote about being a picture of perfection in God’s eyes.
On Valentine’s Day, Gadsden mayor Sherman Guyton helped Tabby’s family procure a room at the Gadsden Senior Activity Center so that they could hold a party in Tabby’s honor.
Guests included City of Attalla mayor Larry Means and Alabama District 29 Representative Becky Nordgren, who presented Tabby with a proclamation from the State of Alabama.
Larry and Elaine Thompson, who met Tabby at her Valentine’s Day party, hope to create fundraisers to help fulfill Tabby’s dream of going to Disney World.
McDaniel and Hollis also hope to get Tabby to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Steve Wilkos Show, or Good Morning America.
Tabby may also make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
“She has surpassed the record for the most greeting cards received, but we have to get it verified,” said McDaniel.
Out of all the cards, gifts, and attention, what has meant the most to Tabby has been the kindness and love of strangers who took the time to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day.
“Everyone loves Tabby,” she said while reading some of her cards.
“Down Syndrome people are pure love, and you can see tears coming out of her eyes when she reads these cards,” McDaniel said.
The vast response to one simple Facebook post has impacted McDaniel and the rest of her family, too.
“The outpouring of love for our Tabby is just unreal. I don’t know how to explain the emotions. She is our baby.”