Benton Evening News - Benton, IL
  • Giving is Aunt Jane’s key to happiness

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  • For the past quarter of a century, Jane Brayfield has been a favorite of area trick-or-treaters.
    “Aunt Jane” as she is known by most, doesn’t give out candy.
    According to her, she gives out “happiness.” Each Halloween, Brayfield gives stuffed animals to the costumed guests who visit her Christopher home.
    “I guess it started about 25 years ago,” she said. “I had an antique store. I would set up an aisle and let the little ones go down it and choose which thing they wanted. The parents were not allowed.”
    Brayfield says she felt it was important that each child choose something they really wanted, something that would make them happy.
    “Kids bring laughter and happiness to life,” she says, smiling. “I just wanted to give them something back.”
    That small tradition that began in her store, Aunt Jane’s Collectibles, has now grown into something that she prepares for all year. Brayfield says she gives away nearly 500 stuffed toys each year.
    “I take donations and I buy some,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll go to a yard sale and offer to buy a batch. When I tell them what it’s for, they usually give me a really good deal or they just donate.”
    Brayfield says that she gets calls from all over southern Illinois. A few years ago, a woman from Carbondale met her and donated a huge storage tub full of pristine Ty beanies.
    When she brings the toys home, she cleans and washes them so they look brand new. Then she bags them up where await new owners. She doesn’t just hand them out, though. She keeps to her tradition of allowing the children to choose a toy that makes them happy.
    “My dad used to call me Crazy Jane,” she laughs. “But if trying to spread laughter and happiness is crazy, then I guess I’m the queen.”
    Brayfield, who is 80, says that her motto of having fun and spreading laughter is the key to staying young.
    “I have a lot of health problems,” she said, “but what good does it do to sit around feeling sorry for myself? This makes me feel better.”
    According to Christopher School Superintendent, Richard Towers, Brayfield has “always been a civic-minded, caring individual.”
    Towers, who is friends with Brayfield’s son, John, has know “Aunt Jane” most of his life.
    “She always puts the needs of others before her own,” he said.
    These days, Brayfield has help from her neighbors to pull off her annual Halloween tradition.
    Page 2 of 2 - “They all come and help me,” she says. “Mikayla and Devin Harris from across the street came over and cleaned up my yard. Andy they’ll be here on Halloween to help with the toys.”
    During her 80 years, Brayfield has had many experiences and adventures. Along with owning her own business, she also worked for the Christopher library for 10 years and spent 16 years in customer service at the local Ben Franklin store. When she wasn’t working, she traveled.
    “I’ve been all over the United States,” she said, “even to a wedding in Hawaii. I’ve been to Ireland and, oh, I even when with a student group from Rend Lake College to Rome, Pompeii, and England. Now that was fun!”
    Brayfield doesn’t limit her giving to Halloween and kids. She often takes left over and overflow items to resident in nursing homes.
    “They get as excited as the kids,” she said.
    Brayfield has no plans to stop her venture.
    “As long as I can do it, I’m going to be here, handing out smiles one toy at a time," she said.
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