An Outpouring of Generosity Follows Cheer Box Break-in and Thefts

EveryStep staff were getting ready for another day of wrapping and packing EveryStep Grief & Loss Services Cheer Boxes when they were met with an unwelcome surprise. Someone had broken into the Urbandale warehouse being used for the Cheer Box event and stolen thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, two vehicles, various resources and Cheer Box gifts intended for grieving families.

Word spread quickly through local and national media about the theft and almost immediately, donations started pouring in. Here are just a few of the stories of the immense generosity showered upon EveryStep so that the Cheer Box program could continue.

EveryStep Grief and Loss Services program coordinator Chelsey Smith returned to the office from the warehouse to find more than 15 emails from people wanting to help. “Community members, EveryStep staff and our EveryStep board members were all reaching out to offer their help. We had folks stopping by the office dropping off cash or checks,” says Chelsey. “The outpouring of people from the community as well as EveryStep staff from other departments was truly incredible.”

EveryStep Foundation executive director Julie Matternas was inundated with donations coming from almost every imaginable source. “Someone who lost their daughter several years ago and had their own Christmas presents stolen that first Christmas without her felt compelled to stop by the packing site and donate $5,000,” says Julie. “They immediately connected with what happened with Cheer Box and wanted to help.”

When Julie posted about the break-in on her personal Facebook page, one of her husband’s college friends in Boston donated. “When I messaged him to thank him, he responded that through the pandemic the saying that’s stuck with him is ‘we’re all in this together.’ I’m trying to take that sentiment more to heart, and more widely.”

EveryStep’s donor database specialist Barbara Pottorff fielded hundreds of phone calls, emails and personal contacts with people from all walks of life who wanted to help. She spoke with one woman, whose only income is social security, who told her she didn’t know how, but she was going to try to find some money to donate. “I thanked her and told her we would be okay and we wanted her to take care of herself first, and not to worry about making a donation,” says Barbara. Barbara also took the phone call from the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, where a group called the Lifer Organization had put together donations totaling $5,500 from their group and other inmate organizations.

At one point, Barbara left her desk at EveryStep’s Bright Kavanagh Center, which has been temporarily serving hospice patients during the renovation of EveryStep’s Kavanagh House, and a hospice patient approached her at the front desk. The patient had contacted their bank and was making a sizeable donation.

When one of the stolen vehicles was located, Maurice Hill, EveryStep’s Materials Management & Facilities coordinator, visited Crow Towing to finalize paperwork. Staff at the towing company donated $200 to help replace the items stolen. “It was very generous of Dawn Thornton and her staff,” says Maurice. “They were very sincere and thoughtful.”

KCCI television in Des Moines was among many media outlets that covered the break-in. The station donated $1,000. Tasty Tacos of Des Moines reached out with another $1,000. Dozens of companies contacted EveryStep president and CEO Tray Wade to make other generous donations. F&G, a Des Moines-headquartered life insurance and annuities company, replaced the EveryStep van stolen and damaged in the break-in.

Donations were received from 22 states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin).

The extreme generosity of individuals, groups and companies allowed for the replacement of all Cheer Box items stolen, and for additional Cheer Boxes to be assembled and delivered. This year, 686 Cheer Boxes were delivered to individuals and families grieving the loss of a loved one during the holiday season.

To learn more about EveryStep and its programs, including Cheer Box, visit To financially support EveryStep’s programs, visit

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.