“I saw that I had only $2,” she said. “There was no way I could afford even the cheapest Manta Ray that I saw for $20.”
With two weeks to go before her son’s Aug. 16 birthday, Holloway, a single mom from McLoud, Okla., decided to get creative.
She rummaged around for a needle and some thread in a junk drawer, fetched her son’s old fuzzy blue baby blanket and cut out a manta ray pattern she’d drawn on a cardboard box.
“I sat on the couch until 1 in the morning, poking myself with that needle until I’d finally finished sewing it together,” said Holloway, 33. “I took two buttons off one of my blouses and used those for eyes.”
She felt so proud of her thrifty creation that she took to social media Aug. 2 to post a photo on Reddit’s poverty/finance page, which she follows for money-saving tips.
“My son wanted a stuffed manta ray for his 5th birthday but I didn’t have money to buy one, so instead I converted his old baby blanket into one!” she wrote.
“I figured I’d be lucky to hear from a couple of people,” said Holloway. “I thought I might get teased because the button eyes aren’t on straight.”
She was floored, she said, when she logged in the next day and saw that she’d been flooded with positive comments and offers of help.
More than 66,000 people had liked the photo of the homemade manta ray she’d named Roger after a favorite childhood doll, Roger Rabbit.
“This is so much better and more special than a store-bought manta ray could ever be,” one person commented.
“This was made with your own 2 hands and the love for your son, and that will last a lifetime,” wrote another. “I really hope you’ll be in a better spot financially soon.”
Dozens of people asked if they could mail her son additional stuffed manta rays for his birthday, said Holloway. She accepted, and within days, dozens of packages started to arrive at her home.
“We’re up to 150 of them,” she said, noting that she surprised Jonas with new manta rays every day leading up to his birthday.
On his big day, she gave him a birthday cake made of pancakes — and the manta ray she’d sewed.
It was his favorite of them all.
“He ran all over the house with it,” she said. “And now he insists on sleeping with every single manta ray — they’re piled everywhere on his bed.”
Jonas has always been quiet and shy, but he came into himself and gained confidence leading up to his birthday, she said.
“I’ve never seen him so happy — I can’t thank people enough for making him feel special,” said Holloway, who has three other sons, ages 16, 8 and 2.
“I’ve been having a tough time financially and was feeling like a failure as a parent until this happened,” she said.
Holloway has been on her own since her divorce two years ago and is unemployed while she takes classes at a community college to become an EMT. About two months ago, when her mother lost a job in Hawaii, Holloway cleaned out her savings to fly her mother to Oklahoma, she said.
“It took every penny I had and that’s why I was down to $2 in savings,” Holloway said. “I was actually thinking about dropping out of school because I didn’t think I could pay my tuition this fall.”
People who saw her post on Reddit have sent her more than $1,500, she said, which allowed her to pay for her classes and put several hundred dollars in the bank. More importantly, said Holloway, they made her son’s birthday one he won’t soon forget.
“One man paid for us to go to the aquarium in Oklahoma City about 20 minutes away, and another person bought us tickets to the zoo,” she said. “In both places, Jonas was able to see manta rays for the first time and pet them.”
Jennifer Prokop of Boulder, Colo., saw Holloway’s post and paid for the zoo tickets. She also started a GoFundMe account to help Holloway get caught up on bills and pay for car repairs. Prokop, 38, said that when she saw Holloway’s post, she felt a connection to her.
“I have a daughter who has grown up loving zoos, aquariums and museums,” she said. “I thought if they wanted to see [a manta ray] in person, it would be a great way to bring the family some joy, just like their story did for me.”
“Besides,” Prokop added, “I wanted to do something to make a little kid smile on his birthday.”
Holloway said she’s grateful for the kindness of strangers, and for the unexpected turn of events.
“It’s not about presents and money,” she said. “It’s about love and humanity.”
“The people who saw my post are a lot like me — they’re not well-off,” added Holloway. “But they came forward to lift us up and make a dream true. We’ll carry that happy feeling with us.”
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