Painting mailboxes for hundreds of people is not something that Kristina Gaines ever thought that she’d be doing in her spare time.
The Cumming resident and mother of three isn’t a painter by trade, rather a former nurse and stay-at-home mom, but when her family hit a rough spot and medical bills began piling up, painting is what she did. And over the last few months, hundreds of people from all over the state and country have been captivated by the Gaines’s story.
According to Gaines, it all started with the birth of her third daughter, Claire, two years ago.
From birth, Gaines said that they knew something was different about Claire. Doctors immediately told Gaines and her husband, Brent, that Claire couldn’t hear and after 10 months the infant had missed every milestone normally associated with young children.
“She wasn't sitting up, she wasn't rolling over, she wasn't crawling, nothing," Gaines said. "My other two were walking at 10 months old, so it was like a polar opposite."
On top of that, Gaines said that Claire would cry constantly, sometimes for six or eight hours a day, but no one could tell them why or what was wrong.
"We were like, 'Something is wrong,' and the doctors would be like, 'She's just an angry baby.' But we were like, 'No, something is wrong, babies don't scream that long, that's not normal,'" she said.
And after many tests, procedures and a trip to an eye doctor, who told Kristina and Brent Gaines that Claire was legally blind without glasses, the crying stopped and Claire became almost like any other toddler.
"So that was interesting – she became happier and started smiling and started giggling for the first time," Gaines said.
Claire still has problems with how she walks, talks and drinks liquids, and the Gaines’s are no closer to finding out what Claire has, if it’s something that has even been diagnosed before, or how it could be remedied.
"We don't have a diagnosis, so we have just been looking for one for two years,” she said. ”We’ve been to doctor after doctor, we've been doing therapy with five different therapists since she's been 10 months old. Running a lot of genetic tests and specialist appointments."
Even with insurance, the Gaines said their medical bills have piled up to over $40,000 between the therapy, doctors and specialists.
"It all just kind of adds up," she said. "The medical expenses have been piling up. She's had a couple of hospitalizations. She had some little procedures done. We have insurance but everything is just crazy expensive. There are a lot of things that insurance won't pay for, because she doesn’t have a diagnosis. Meanwhile, you have to run a lot of tests to get a diagnosis."
With those bills piling up, the Gaines’s began looking for ways to offset the costs of Claire’s treatment.
"Our HOA required that we painted our mailbox, so we painted our mailbox, and I was like, 'That was kind of fun. I bet I could paint my mom's mailbox and some of her friends' mailboxes and make a little bit of cash here or there,'” Kristina said. “So I just sort of went out to Johns Creek and painted their mailbox and painted some of their neighbors’. Then they were like, 'You should make a flier and do this.'”
Curious at the prospect, Gaines printed out a homemade flyer and posted around her mom’s neighborhood and started to wait, but she didn’t have to wait long.
"I had like 14-15 calls the first day,” she said.
After working on a few of the mailboxes from the people that saw her flyer, Gaines said that word began to spread on the local Nextdoor page, local media and then national media. Their story was even featured on HLN network.
"I really was not expecting much," she said. "But we had 40 something phone calls in the first day. It kind of exploded from there.”
With that attention came hundreds of people who were moved by Claire’s story, emailing messages of support and donating over $11,000 to a GoFundMe made to support Claire and the Gaines family.
“So many people were giving, so many people were touched by Claire's story,” she said. “So many people we don't know and that we will probably never meet, it's really, really humbling just to know that so many people care."
Gaines has painted about 120 mailboxes in the Forsyth County area working around the school schedules of her other two daughters and Claire’s therapy. But they still have a waiting list of about 50 mailboxes ready to be painted.
"All the proceeds are going to pay for Claire's medical bills, so it's been a huge blessing because it's something that I honestly didn't think would take off like it did," she said. "It’s been so huge to have that community support to help us get through it. It's been such a huge blessing."
For more information on how to have your mailbox painted email Kristina Gaines at firstname.lastname@example.org.