It looked like it would be a murky Christmas for the 20 families staying at the Lexington Ronald McDonald House on Monday afternoon. Only a day later, the forecast cleared.
People and groups throughout Central Kentucky stepped up to help replace Christmas gifts that had been damaged by a broken sprinkler. More than 300 volunteers also offered their time to wrap the presents.
"Yesterday was one of the worst days, and today was one of the best," said Sarah Warner, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bluegrass. "What a difference a day makes."
A malfunctioning sprinkler sprayed brown, rusty water onto the 300 to 500 gifts stacked in the boardroom of the house Monday afternoon.
Half of the presents were ruined, and most of the room and its contents were covered in a layer of muck.
"Our copier looks like it's dipped in chocolate," Warner said.
Warner told local news media about the sprinkler gone awry in hopes that community members would donate wrapping paper for replacement gifts.
Instead, folks bombarded the house with more than four times as many presents than the organization had.
The Ronald McDonald House provides a home for children and families who come to Lexington for medical treatment. The families are far from home and have sick children, which gives them little time to shop for gifts, Warner said.
The executive director said she was floored by the enormous outpouring from the community. Many donors told her that they felt a personal connection to the Ronald McDonald House, whether they had been recipients of a similar service or knew of others who would benefit.
Faith Dale began to volunteer at the house a couple of weeks ago during her winter break from Sullivan University. On Sunday, she was the only volunteer at the house. Two nights later, she had been joined by hundreds of people. "It was just amazing," she said.
Anne Taylor, a board member for the Ronald McDonald House, said she had never seen such a flow of people willing to help.
"Even in this hard time and era, with everybody hurting at Christmastime, it's been wonderful," she said.
The giving has been so great that Warner has asked people to stop donating toys. "We are probably going to be set for the next year," she said.
Warner said the organization would accept donations for a storage facility to hold the overwhelming bundle of gifts. That way, she said, the Ronald McDonald House could give to families year-round.
The house will also accept gift card donations to major retailers such as Wal-Mart or Kroger that will be used as presents for parents.
"We want to make sure to take care of mom and dad, too," she said.
After the holiday season has passed, the house will begin to focus on the repairs needed for the damaged boardroom.
Volunteers cleared the room of sludge and disinfected it after the leak Monday. But there is still damage to the ceiling, carpet and wallpaper.
For now, the room still serves as the resting place for the mountain of presents that reaches the ceiling.
Don't worry, Warner said — the sprinkler system is shut off, and a tarp is on the ground.
"The scene of the crime is now the scene of the presents," she said.