Filled Need

One summer evening back in 2006 I happened to see a P.B.S. documentary on people living in the Appalachian region of Virginia. My kids, 8 and 10 at the time, had been with me for the weekend and we’d had a great time as usual. After they left, I cleaned and washed a few dishes. The television was on for background noise really. I hated how quiet it was once the kids left.

I started to pay attention to the documentary when someone began to interview an Appalachian couple as they sat on the front porch steps of their tiny frame house. The couple had two kids but little else of any value besides their home. The father worked as a coal miner and handyman while the mother took care of the kids and worked a part-time job at a corner grocery store.

During the interview the couple held hands as they spoke about the hardships of living in such an impoverished area where most people had little education and jobs were scarce. I was struck by the fact that they never complained. Not once. The simply did the best they could and were grateful their good health allowed them to work.

They were serious when they spoke but smiled when asked about their kids. The mother described how much they loved them. The father smiled at first, then his expression changed. This big, burly, tough, coal miner and handyman who lived a rough mountain life began to cry as he spoke about his children. He expressed disappointment in himself because he was unable to give his kids things he knew other children had. At Christmas, he said, it was especially rough. It was hard to tell what he said, he cried so hard as he said it.

I cried with him. To some extent I understood that disappointment. This couple worked as much as possible to keep the kids taken care of and happy. In spite of their efforts, they felt shame and disappointment because in their minds they were letting their kids down. Every empty Christmas was a reminder of that feeling.

At that time, I had very little myself. I have never had much, but that was an especially rough period. Still, as I watched that grown man cry, and not just tear up a little but completely sob because he felt he was letting his kids down, it dawned on me. This was suddenly all pretty simple. I had very little, but he and others in his situation had even less. Surely there was something I could do.

The first call I made was to my friend Mary Dell. I told her what I’d seen, how it made me feel, and asked what she thought of collecting clothes and shoes and once we had enough we could take them all…somewhere. I had no idea where. She immediately agreed. After my call she drummed up donations on her end while I did the same on mine. Friends and family eagerly pitched in. Over the next few months a spare bedroom in my basement began to overflow with bags of clothes and shoes.

As collections grew I began to email various community action programs operating in Virginia counties within the Appalachian region. I also spoke with various social service departments, charitable organizations, and even fire departments, anyone I could find who might know which agency would get the most use out of the things we were quickly stockpiling in my basement. The idea was not to start our own charity, but to feed into established programs that provided help to the people they served.

Amazingly, my calls reached many dead ends. No one was rude or unappreciative, they just didn’t know what to make of my proposition. I simply wanted an address of the office or warehouse used by the program. My friends and I would pack up the hundreds of items we were still collecting and deliver them. I got responses from those I contacted like “We can’t pay you anything.” or “We don’t have it in our budget to reimburse your gas.” I never asked for any of those things. I just wanted to deliver the clothes. Many times I was asked for the name of my organization. People I contacted seemed to have trouble understanding why one individual, hours away across the state, would call with such an offer.

If these program directors felt more comfortable feeling they were dealing with an organization, then I would give my group of friends a name. I decided on “R.E.A.C.T. Virginia” (Reach Every Appalachian Child Today) and registered our group online so that my contact information could be accessed.

After weeks of back and forth with about thirty agencies, I managed to get the attention of the director of a community action program in a county in southwest Virginia. I told her we had hundreds of items, clothing and shoes for men, women, boys, and girls. All sizes. If she would tell me where her office or warehouse was, I would make sure the items were delivered.

She initially responded with comments I’d heard before. “We thank you for your desire to help, we can’t come to Richmond to pick items up, we can’t pay for shipping.” I told her I understood, that friends and I had collected the items and at this point we only needed to be told who needed these things the most and where we could take them. If her agency could use them we had no problem packing it all up and driving the four or five hours to deliver them.

The director’s next email to me was one word. “Why?”

She was baffled as to why anyone from across the state would contact her little program and volunteer to hand deliver such an amount of clothing as I had described. I once again quoted my grandmother, Nannie, to a complete stranger. I repeated the line of hers that I have repeated many times. “When you see a need, fill it.” My friends and I were just trying to fill a need.

Still baffled, she sent me directions to her office warehouse. We agreed upon a date to make the delivery, which happened to fall on my 44th birthday. I couldn’t wait to tell Mary Dell, her son Greg, and her sister Brenda, who had all been instrumental in making this effort work. I was thrilled. Finally I had found people who knew how to make the best use of all we had collected. I walked downstairs and looked at the room full of clothes in bags and boxes.  The room was literally full to the ceiling in the corners. Then it hit me that all of these things would have to be packed onto the truck.

What truck?

Without hesitation, Brenda’s husband Fred offered us the use of his pickup truck. What followed next was a blur of the core group of friends, my sisters, and my mother who arrived with a cooler packed full of sandwiches working like ants over that room full of clothes and shoes. We sorted, sized, folded, bagged, and laughed for hours. Everything was ready to go on the truck in the morning.

When Mary Dell, Brenda, and Greg arrived in the truck early the next morning I remember thinking we probably wouldn’t need so big a truck. I was wrong. Before the packing was done the truck was piled high, rounded over with bags of clothes, a tarp stretched across and lashed with ropes. All we lacked was Granny Clampett in a rocking chair as the cherry on top.

The four of us left for our five hour trip to southwest Virginia unsure of our directions, where we were actually going, or what we would find when we got there.

What we found was a small but effective organization run by kind, caring, and determined people. We drove to the back of the office warehouse and were greeted by a man at the door. When he asked if he could help us with something, I told him my name and who we were. He suddenly disappeared from sight but we could hear him yell to someone inside, “Come quick! R.E.A.C.T. Virginia is here!”

I was embarrassed and suddenly feared that maybe I had overplayed the amount of things we were bringing. What if they were disappointed?

They were not disappointed. There was disbelief in their eyes as they saw the mountain of bags of clothes, contents all clearly labeled. That alone had saved them a lot of work, we learned. It took a while to unload the truck and I stopped counting the number of times we were thanked. With the truck unloaded I looked at my friends, knowing we were all feeling pretty good that we had accomplished what we set out to do. That’s when we were invited inside for a tour of the office.

We went inside and were told in detail how they work, what they do, where the items go, who can receive the donations, and every other detail. We were also told that our delivery couldn’t have come at a better time. There had recently been two house fires in the nearby town and both families had been left with nothing. The timing was perfect.

They thanked us, we thanked them, and we told them we would be on our way since we had to make the return five hour trip. We were told we couldn’t leave until they took our picture. We were escorted outside where we lined up in front of the agency’s sign and had our group photo taken. R.E.A.C.T.Virginia was going to be in the local paper.

After the photos we headed home. It had been a long, satisfying day. My intention was to continue that effort. Maybe a yearly trip to other programs, if not that particular one. Unfortunately, life got in the way a bit. I changed jobs, moved, and the planned effort was basically left behind.

This has been seven years ago now, but just recently I got a phone call from the director of a community action program in North Carolina. She had learned about us from the director of the agency where we had delivered our truckload of clothes – seven years ago. She wondered if R.E.A.C.T. Virginia would consider helping agencies located outside Virginia and if we would, could she talk to me about their particular needs.

I apologized to her and let her know that we had not been active for a few years, but I hoped she would be able to find the help she was looking for. She very pleasantly thanked me. I hung up and since then have pondered how to make it work again.

It all started because I saw a hard working grown man brought to tears when he felt he disappointed his children. Even though I had little, I still had more than that man, and it caused me to remember what Nannie always said. Seeing that sad man sparked the effort, but my friends and family are what made it succeed.

I felt such satisfaction knowing that many, many people benefited from the huge amount of clothes and shoes we were able to provide. There is so much red tape, sometimes, in getting charitable acts accomplished.  The people who needed the things we delivered had no time for red tape. Somewhere a kid needed shoes, and he got them.

That truckload of clothes and shoes we were able to deliver was not the result of years of planning, debating, budget reviews, and demographic mapping. It happened because we saw a need and with the help of our families and others, we helped to fill it. It didn’t take master plans and countless meetings to accomplish.

It was accomplished by four friends and a pickup truck.

Stuart M. Perkins

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51 Comments

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51 responses to “Filled Need

  1. pi314chron

    God bless you, Stu. The scriptural story of the “widow’s mite” is still as true today as it was then — if you give as much as you can, no matter how small, God will honor the gift and the giver. Well done.

  2. Fantastic story, well told, Stu, thank you.

  3. great act! one need not be rich to be able to help others…

  4. Sig

    So many of us say this or that about the things “someone” should do. So few of us do anything but wait for the “someone” to do it. Hats off to you for being someone!

  5. Beautiful story and even more special that you chose to care and fill a need. The world is fortunate and a better place because you and your friends are in it. As a teacher, I saw a need for school supplies and backpacks. Thank you for inspiring me to attempt to do something about that need. “When you see a need, fill it,” is an inspiring quote. Imagine if we all helped when needed…
    Best,
    Lynne

  6. what a beautiful story. thank you so much for sharing such an inspiring story. 🙂

  7. Really great story and nicely told. Kudos to you for the aid and for sharing your experience.

  8. Stuart,
    Amazing! I would love being a part of
    R.E.A.C.T. If you ever do rekindle it. What an awesome story and such a worthy cause. Reading your story made me realize that I do little to help people on this manner, despite my company’s liberal personal leave policy and encouragement to do such things. I would love to be involved. You have a large group of followers to your site who, I’m sure, would also like to get involved.
    On another note, PLEASE keep writing. I don’t think you’ve published a story yet that hasn’t brought a tear to my eye for one reason or another! Great Stuff!

    G

  9. There I have been times in recent memory when I have had little. What I have discovered is that I can still help in other ways. I learned a lot about others’ plights and about myself as well.

  10. laurie

    Isn’t it crazy how “background noise” developed into something extraordinary? You, my friend, are kind.

  11. What a lovely story. A memory you will cherish forever. Thanks for sharing. I hope it encourages others to find their own way to give back.

  12. What an amazing story. This just goes to show what people are capable of if they possess the requisite amount of determination and caring. God bless.

    >>> storyshucker 7/16/2013 10:56 PM >>>
    Stuart M. Perkins posted: “One summer evening back in 2006 I happened to see a P.B.S. documentary on people living in the Appalachian region of Virginia. My kids, 8 and 10 at the time, had been with me for the weekend and we’d had a great time as usual. After they left, I cleaned a”

  13. I spent my childhood in Appalachia. My father was a pastor of a small mountain church. I realize now we were poor. I didn’t know it then though, because everyone was. Each summer, my father’s sweet parishioners would make their way up our steep, winding driveway to deliver baskets of beans, peas, tomatoes…Oh, how my siblings and I hated snapping those beans! My mother would then stand over the hot stove ladling steaming produce into jars for days on end. It fed us all winter long. Our woodstove warmed our home with wood these people shared. We snuggled beneath quilts at night that precious mountain women lovingly crafted for us stich by stich by hand.

    My children nap under these same quilts today.

    Thank you for giving back.

  14. I thank you for this inspiring story.

  15. Very, very inspiring.

    I make a monthly donation to a girl in Africa. It’s a sponsorship system through Plan
    http://www.plan-deutschland.de/

    I hope I give her a little hope in life.

  16. Thank you so much! this was a great read! I am going to contact somebody today to start doing something more! Very, Very inspirational!!!!! You are a really great writer! Keep going!

  17. What a wonderful thing you and your friends did. We can always find someone that has less than we do can’t we? I really enjoyed reading this. Since you did not give up on finding a place to take what you and your friends collected it turned out perfect. Seems when we really feel compelled to do something it always turns out to be in the right place and at the right time. I do not believe that is by accident do you? Bless all of you for your generous act of caring and giving.

  18. Thanks for all of the great comments! I wish we had been able to keep that effort going each year but with a new job, my moving to another place, etc. circumstances made it too difficult to do for a while, but that doesn’t mean we won’t do it again!

  19. Reblogged this on Spirits and The Paranormal, Don't Be Afraid. and commented:
    An Example of an Erath Angel, be it for a life time for a day, they are out there and this is the story of just one of them.
    Love and Light to everyone involved.
    ‘See a need, Fill a need’

  20. Blossom

    Wonderful, inspiring story!

  21. kissysmom

    Wow! This has given me chills, and yes, a few tears have escaped. In fact, I need a handkerchief right now. This is exactly how things can get accomplished when no one’s looking for credit.

  22. Love the quote, ‘when you see a need, fill it.’ Simple but profound.

    • your Gran and mine lived across the world from each other but shared a philosophy. I remember as a child coming home to meet a stranger mum had met sleeping in a bus shelter or women’s toilet. This new friend would be part of our family till they had somewhere to go and could manage life. We were poor but life was even richer by meeting these people who were all amazing. We never had so much as a teaspoon taken. Do unto others is a wonderful way to live. If we each make our little corner of the world more compassionate soon the whole world will be a much better place!

  23. Reblogged this on Circle of Light Spiritual Centre and commented:
    Just do it! We can all change the world for others if we just act on those compassionate urges and spread a little kindness.

  24. Keep up the story telling, Stuart. It just might be the catalyst to motivate others to do similar works of charity!

  25. Love the story ! So touching…and close to life. You write so well xx

  26. A beautiful story and beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed it and applaud you deed. Kudos!

  27. What a wonderful experience for you, your friends and the recipients of your work. Thanks for sharing your story Stuart .

  28. WOW. WOW. This is so good… gets into one’s soul, right under the skin. When I worked at the Mission, here in Denver, we sent out a semi truck of clothes to the Indian reservation in South Dakota. Good post, Bro. Really awesome.

  29. What a great and inspiring story, all the more because it’s true. I appreciate the selfless spontaneity with which you and your friends came to the aid of these poor people, and for making a palpable difference in their lives. Thanks for sharing your account of this generous act (and for taking the time to respond to my blog).

  30. Pingback: Filled Need | chloé : chasing liberty

  31. Lauren

    Just as that burly coal miner made you cry, you’ve made me cry with this story of hope. it’s a reminder that yes, an individual CAN make a difference, which seems like such a foreign concept these days. and it was as simple (and complex) as you filled a need. lovely. 🙂

  32. I enjoyed your post. I would’ve never believed it when I was younger, but giving really is better than receiving at this point in my life. I volunteer weekly at OWL, a nfp that rehabilitates and releases injured and orphaned animals. They bite, try to get away, and refuse to cooperate sometimes. But when I see the list of animals released that week I feel really good knowing I at least washed their dirty dishes or folded some laundry used in their care.

    Thank you too for liking my blog so consistently! It makes me feel like I’m doing something right — not something I can always say in my caregiver role.

  33. Your Nanna would be proud, Stuart. We should all listen to her.

    For Australians, there’s a website that lists not-for-profit organisations that you can volunteer with: http://www.dosomethingnearyou.com.au/
    Its motto is “Don’t just sit there – Do something!”

  34. Thank you for coming by my blog, Stuart. What a genuinely heart-warming and caring story. I am challenged and convicted by your quick response to someone’s need. As you saw, great things happen when people just DO SOMETHING. This is certainly a challenge to me. I get overwhelmed when I see needs – but your story proves that while we can’t do everything, we can do something. Thanks for the inspiration!

  35. Stuart, your story is remarkable and amazing! You did it! You and your four friends and a pickup truck! WOW! I am hoping to keep your story ALIVE in my heart. I need to do something! and I feel stuck in a rut…now my wheels are beginning to turn! Thank you for the inspiration!

  36. Reblogged this on sidewalk musings and geniuses and commented:
    For this world has never run out of people who make this place better. Thank you God! ❤

  37. This is so impressive and life-affirming. It is disheartening to realize how hard it is to get people to understand that the only thing in it for you is thanks and personal satisfaction. What a wonderful undertaking.

  38. My…you are giving me all sorts of ideas that it just takes showing up and doing it. Life doesn’t need to be so complicated, does it. I live in the Blue Ridge Mts…western NC. It’s fun reading your stories. People around here have it in their bones….telling stories. One of the finest things about living here. Thanks…

  39. What a wonderful experience–and you wrote about it so well. Thank you for sharing.

  40. Thanks for sharing the story, there is something that everyone can do, whether time or money. Before my partner got laid off we picked children on the Cheyenne River reservation to send Christmas packages to. Sometimes clothes for school, or whatever we could afford. It felt good to be giving back to those hit so hard with 80% unemployment, so many reservations, so little money.

  41. Thank you for enriching me with your experience. It reminded me of a time when, as a young married couple, my husband and I had nothing in our pantry one Thanksgiving. Our Sunday School teacher and worship minister got wind of the fact and came to our door with paper bag after paper bag after paper bag of food for a Thanksgiving dinner plus some!! It still makes me tear up to this day thinking about giving grace at dinnertime. It was probably the most heartfelt Thanksgiving prayer we’ve ever said. “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:9

  42. Wonderful story. It’s funny how people act suspiciously when we try to help them. I know that feeling. Bless you

  43. Pingback: Be the “Someone” Who Fills a Need in Your Congregation | Still Living

  44. What a great story and mission. God bless you for everything you’re doing!

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