Thumbs up to Christi Kearns and family of Marion for beginning the Elle Project. Kearns had the idea after losing a daughter in childbirth just over a year ago. The project provides “hope” bags to children being admitted to hospitals. Each bag contains an activity, a stuffed animal and a book. Kearns received a package containing a book about loss, a framed poem and a stuffed bear from medical staff after her daughter Elle died at birth. Kearns has three other children. “It was just the fact that strangers had taken the time to think about somebody’s pain,” Kearns said. “That really touched us, and over the next couple of weeks, we talked about it, and so we sat down with the kids and said, ‘What do you think about instead of giving each other gifts (for Christmas) … what if we give back to the hospital, and you guys can each go pick out a gift for a child?’ And they were like, ‘Yes, let’s do it, let’s go shopping right now.’”

Thumbs down to the Dec. 23 fire that destroyed the Grecian Steakhouse in Pinckneyville. The restaurant was undergoing a renovation, which was nearly complete. Owner Angelos Sandravelis is known in Pinckneyville for his good deeds, including providing free meals to veterans on Veterans Day and free meals to seniors on Thanksgiving. The good news is Sandravelis plans to rebuild the restaurant. Also on a happy note, the Pinckneyville Chamber of Commerce has set up a fund to aid the Sadravelis family and employees of the restaurant.

Thumbs up to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their annual Christmas tree recycling projects. The two organizations collect Christmas trees, which are used for fish habitat. The trees are lashed to concrete blocks and submerged in lakes. The projects mean trees don’t have to be burned or tossed into landfills. At Rend Lake, trees are being collected at the Dam West and Jackie Branch boat docks and the IDNR is collecting trees at its district office just south of the intersection of Old Route 13 and Illinois 148.

Thumbs up and happy retirement wishes to Murphysboro City Clerk Joyce Cottonaro, who is stepping down after 12 years of service to the city. She retired from her full-time job as business manager of the Southern Illinois University Head Start program last year.

Thumbs up to Landmarks Illinois and its World War I Monument Preservation Grant Program. Landmarks Illinois recently granted $10,000 to Herrin American Legion Post 645 to be used to restore the city’s iconic Doughboy Statue. The Doughboy was erected Sept. 6, 1927. It has had several homes in Herrin through the years, but is now located near the Herrin City Hall. In addition to the Landmarks Illinois grant, the committee received a $10,000 grant from Harrison Bruce Foundation and $1,527 from the Tony Galinas Foundation. Restoration work will begin next fall. Restoration will take about 30 days.

Thumbs up to Honor Wreaths for Veterans, a Marion-based charity, which raises money to purchase wreaths that are placed on military graves. This year the group raised enough money to purchase 1,745 wreaths that were used to decorate 2,699 graves at Mound City National Cemetery.

Thumbs down to the continued carnage on Interstate 57. The stretch of highway between Interstates 24 and 64 claimed another life this past Saturday. The wreck was serious enough to keep the interstate closed for nearly six hours. It seems as if a life is lost weekly on that stretch of road.

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