A Christmas to remember

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Austin woman is grateful to volunteer after bout with COVID-19


After nearly three decades of filling the December air with songs of Christmas, Debra Downing’s voice was almost silenced this year.

But the 65-year old was back in the spirit of the season as she was ringing bells and singing by her Salvation Army Donation bucket at Hy-Vee on Monday. She will be back at it again from noon to 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

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This is far from the normal Christmas season for Downing as she is still recovering from a nasty bout with pneumonia stemming from a COVID-19 infection.

Downing spent two months on oxygen in the hospital. She still carries an oxygen tank with her when she moving around on her scooter. Downing has been out of the hospital for a month, but her recovery is far from over.

While it was a scary ordeal, Downing’s spirit has not been broken.

“The good thing is that part of my recovery is building my lungs and singing helps with that. I love to sing,” Downing said. “For many, many years I’ve sang for the Salvation Army from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. This is the first time I haven’t been able to do it. I want to sing for the Lord. It’s a miracle that I’m here today and I want people to be encouraged that prayer works, God works and God is faithful. If people want to hear me sing, they can. Give to the Salvation Army, they really need the money.”

Downing, who has lived in Austin for most of her life, has been active in helping out with the Salvation Army ever since they helped her through hard times when she was younger. It’s people like Downing that help spread donations and cheer in a time of the year when everyone is feeling a little more cheery.

Major Jeff Strickland of the Austin Salvation Army said he was thrilled to have Downing back behind the bucket.

“We really weren’t counting on her being able to help, but she’s bounced back and done pretty well. She’s a real regular for us and she enjoys singing. She usually does that more than ringing the bells,” Strickland said. “The Salvation Army really appreciates the community support in Austin. It amazes me how many people help their neighbor out by trying to brighten the Christmas season.”

Downing became sick with COVID-19 shortly after her husband had gone through a mild case. She felt too weak to drive her car and soon she was calling an ambulance.

When Downing arrived in the hospital, her oxygen level was down to a dangerously low 70 percent.

“Every night I prayed and I said, ‘God, if you want to take me, take me. If you don’t, then give me another day.’ I did that every day,” Downing said. “One of the doctors said I was a miracle. I just kept improving and improving.”

Downing has now moved to the Cedars of Austin, where she can get the help that she needs to recover. She is making it her goal to keep on helping whenever and wherever she can.

“The Salvation Army helped me when I was down and out and I’m really appreciative of them,” Downing said. “They’re hard working people and they don’t get a lot of money for what they do.”