CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Christmas came early at Happy Valley Elementary School thanks to the determination of one woman and the help of her TikTok followers.
Mariah Walker moved to Tennessee just three months ago and jumped headfirst into helping the community.
“We came from California and last year, we helped some kids in foster care, like 10 of them at a local foster agency,” said Walker. “When I came here, I knew I wanted to do the same thing.”
She was already working with The Rise Up program when a chance conversation with their Amazon driver, Donnie, led her to Happy Valley Elementary. Walker’s husband told Donnie they were looking for more children to sponsor. Donnie suggested there was some need at Happy Valley Elementary, where his wife Becky works as a secretary.
Walker got to work calling on her more than 144,000 TikTok followers for help.
“I put videos out on TikTok and all my followers just bought gifts for all the kids, donated money,” said Walker. “They donated like $20,000. They bought every gift that you see under the tree, all the books.”
Local businesses also pitched in. Walker said she got 400 gift cards from Owl’s Nest, and they donated another 50 for free and that Open Doors gave her a discount on the gift card.
Walker raised enough not only to give each Happy Valley Elementary schooler a toy, book or coloring book, and candy — she also gave each and every Happy Valley Middle and High schooler a gift card.
Happy Valley Elementary School Principal Mandy Greer said they managed to keep this a secret from the students.
“They knew we were having a special visitor coming,” said Greer. “So I think they probably felt like Santa was going to be here. But as far as what they’re getting ready to receive, they have no idea.”
Greer said they are thankful for not only the gifts, but the outpouring of love from Walker, her followers, and the local community.
The gifts weren’t Walker’s only gift to the school. According to Greer, Walker and her followers bought $2,000 in books for the Happy Valley Elementary School library during their book fair earlier this fall.
For Walker, she said the best part is being a blessing to the students.
“I don’t know them personally; I don’t know their lives,” said Walker. “Maybe this is the only gift they’re going to get this whole year. Maybe it’s not, but I don’t know.”