Her family won a raffle.
Well. Sort of.
It happened a long time ago, but the event will never leave the woman’s memory. Not even when she is old and gray, lying in her final bed. There are some moments that stick with a body.
“Ain’t never gonna forget it,” she tells me in a thick Tennessean accent. “None of us will. No way we could.”
She grew up poor. Very poor. Imagine the poorest kid you knew growing up. Now multiply that times a few hundred. That was her.
Her brothers and sisters were bone thin, her parents were as shapely as fence posts. Sometimes the family went whole weekends without eating anything more than cold grits and hambones.
I’ll pause right here. Can you imagine being a child and not having enough nutrition to make it through the day? And yet, currently, there are 13 million American kids living in homes without enough food. Or, to put it like this: One out of every six children will face hunger this year.
“We were pretty much hungry all the time,” she said. “We quit paying much attention to our sour stomachs.”
The ramshackle house sat on the edge of town, sort of leaning sideways. You’ve seen the kind of place I’m talking about. It was the house everyone drove past while shaking their heads in disgust. The word “eyesore” comes to mind.
There was a leak in the bedroom—if you could call it a bedroom. The room was just a couple of mattresses thrown on a pine floor.
There was no running water.
“We had to steal water from our neighbor’s hosepipe.”
The electricity was never on—no heat, no lights. And the kids were usually fighting some kind of seasonal infection from being malnourished.
But one holiday season, that all changed.
“This man came to our house,” she said. “He was driving a little green car, and wearing one of those little white Catholic collars.”
The old man knocked on the door.
The girl’s father answered. Her father’s face and hands were still covered in black soot and coal dust from crawling in a mineshaft.
“Good evening, sir,” said the man in the dog collar. “I’m here to inform you that you have won our holiday raffle.”
Her daddy was not a guy to mince words.
“The hell you talking ‘bout, preacher?”
“A raffle. It’s a contest, sir. And you’re the winner.”
“I didn’t play no contest.”
“Well,” said the rector, nervously turning his hat in his hands. “Someone must’ve submitted your name. But the good news is, you won.”
Her father said nothing.
The girl’s mother butted in. “Tell us what we won, Father!”
Before the rector could even answer, the girl noticed rumbling work trucks pulling into their driveway. The vehicles were outfitted with lumber, tools, workmen, and smiles. On the truck doors were words like “roofing service,” and “plumber.”
In a few minutes there were workmen climbing on the rooftop, pounding nails, swinging nine-pound hammers. There were craftsmen inside the girl’s home, operating loud tools, turning wrenches, filling the world with the scent of fresh paint.
Over the next few weeks, more trucks arrived. There were more carpenters, landscapers, window installers, electricians, flooring crews, and plaster men.
But there was nothing—nothing—half as wonderful as the night the electricity came on.
“Boy, when them lights came on…” the woman said. “You’ll never know how much it meant.”
In an instant the home’s interior was lit up like a Roman candle. The old refrigerator began to hum. An antique television in the other room abruptly came to life. The children applauded. Their mother cried into their father’s denim shirt and said a prayer of thanks.
And then came the food.
Food arrived by the metric ton, carried by cheerful church ladies in pearls and pumps. The smorgasbord might as well have been carried in via wheelbarrows.
There was a turkey, a Virginia ham, sacks of cornmeal, cheeses, breakfast cereals, field peas, cold cuts, and enough Campbell’s soup products to start their own A&P.
“My mom just watched those women bring all that food, and she kept apologizing. She was so embarrassed to be so poor. She kept explaining our situation, and saying she was sorry.”
But the embarrassment didn’t last long. Because on the evening the priest visited their home to see the finished product, he made an offer to the girl’s father.
The man of the cloth sat on the family’s new outdoor swing, hanging from the rafters of the crisply painted porch. There were wax myrtles in the front yard. A new mailbox by the highway.
The girl’s mother served the rector iced tea.
With actual ice.
The priest offered the girl’s father a job as church janitor. And when her father heard the offered salary for the position, he covered his face with his hands.
And so it was, that in a small chapel, somewhere in the Volunteer State, the young woman’s father lived out the majority of his remaining thirty-two years with a good job, earning decent pay. He spent his days repairing broken hinges, busted water heaters, and refinishing scuffed pews.
Even after many, many decades have passed, the humble coal miner’s daughter says she will never forget it.
It was some raffle.
Sandi. - November 6, 2021 7:50 am
That’s the kind of raffle that restores one’s faith in humanity.
Tammy S. - November 6, 2021 8:05 am
We never know how life-changing a simple, or grand, act of kindness can be. This is powerful!!
I’ll never forget the bags and bags of groceries brought in to our home by ladies from a local church when our family of 7 (Dad, Mom and us 5 girls) were going through a tough season. I still remember the name brand cereals and 5 multipacks of grape Bubble Yum bubblegum us girls found in the brown grocery sacks. And another church hired my Dad to work with their youth until he could find another job. For our family it was a life-line when things looked hopeless. I will always be grateful, and am still reminded of God’s goodness when I see a pack of Bubble Yum bubble gum at the grocery check out aisle.
Carol Krebs - November 6, 2021 9:51 am
I’m starting to see why my sister says to “be careful when you read his posts…or else you will end up ugly crying before bed or before work!” Thank you Sean…even though you do make me ugly cry!
Nancy Grinstead - November 10, 2021 10:15 pm
It’s a good day when you smile , and cry in the same story, almost every day!!
Love the stories
Honey Rothstein - November 6, 2021 10:48 am
My heart rejoices with this kindness. I have to look each day for something happy. This!
Heidi - November 6, 2021 11:27 am
Random acts of kindness. You just never know.❤️
Dean - November 6, 2021 11:27 am
Thank You for your sharing this. I grew up without running water and we didn’t have much but these people had least.
Thank God for the good people who helped them
Lana - November 6, 2021 11:35 am
My throat is burning and eyes are watery. I pass by a house often that I feel like is a sad home. Never a car but sometimes signs of life. I say a prayer for the people that I never see, but I know Jesus does.
Eliza - November 6, 2021 11:43 am
It’s good to be reminded how bountiful our hearts can be!
Betty Martinez Lowery - November 6, 2021 11:49 am
Beautiful. Great way to start my day.
Bill salokar - November 6, 2021 11:52 am
Sad raffle story to share back. A friend’s dad won a new Mercury Comet at our church raffle. A few months later he tried passing a car and had a head-on collision with another car and, sadly, died in the accident. It always struck me as a strange twist of fate. A good author could turn it into a great short story so feel free to borrow!
imcdbw - November 6, 2021 12:01 pm
This! This is what Christianity is! This is what we’re meant to do!
Nancy Crews - November 6, 2021 12:46 pm
♥️your writing and the hearts of good people.
Shelton A. - November 6, 2021 12:56 pm
Now that’s the kind of news story we need! Thank you for sharing, Sean. It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and that is a story we can all be thankful to read. God bless you, Jamie, and the hat-eating hounds.
Karen - November 6, 2021 1:03 pm
What a beautiful gift this church gave to this family. This is what represents the best in our fellow man.
Paul McCutchen - November 6, 2021 1:18 pm
They may have been poor but also proud. The church “raffle” not only got the family help but let them still hold their heads high. Christians are like that and they rarely make the news.
Kate - November 6, 2021 1:27 pm
Prayer is good, but prayerful action is wonderful.
Suellen - November 6, 2021 1:31 pm
There are a LOT of people willing to help others they just need someone to be the leader. Someone to give them a prod. I worked in the trucking industry for almost 25 years. Almost always with all men. I always took up collections for needy families or bought presents for families at Christmas time. Occasionally I’d have someone say something like “they wouldn’t be poor if their parents didn’t drink up all their money or use drugs” and I’d always respond “Regardless how it’s happened it’s not the children’s fault.” These big old tough men would be like little kids buying and wrapping and we would take car loads of gifts to people. I always let them be the ones to deliver them and I tell you we always got back way more than we gave.
Keloth Anne 💕 - November 6, 2021 1:35 pm
Oh kindness, unconditional giving and sharing—so so needed. This truly touched my heart and the tears flowed—hunger and just “unable to meet the basic needs” —- it’s all around us and what a difference we could all make if we reached out and helped others.
Thank you once again for a heart touching post.
Lifetime Chicago - November 6, 2021 1:51 pm
Thank you! I was praying to God to help direct me to either relieve some financial issues or accept the situation, and, of course, I read this. That is truly how God works every time. We are just fine and your writing often reminds me of this.
Cathy M - November 6, 2021 2:02 pm
We all have so much that we take for granted. To whom much is given, much is expected. Thanks for the reminder. The best part of this gift was a job for the father and the rest of the story. Happy Saturday to you and Jamie and all of your readers. We are blessed
Patricia Gibson - November 6, 2021 2:17 pm
What a wonderful example of God’s work. Made my day!!
Paula - November 6, 2021 2:22 pm
Dang it, Sean! You made me cry again. We all need this reminder of how our acts of kindness and generosity (with dignity) can make all the difference to someone’s life. Prayers for this sweet lady as lives out her final days here. Thanks for sharing her story.
Terry - November 6, 2021 2:22 pm
My mother grew up poor in southern Kentucky by Tennessee. Her family did not have electricity or running water. My grandfather worked in a creosote plant needless to say he eventually died of cancer when I was 10. My grandfather and grandmother never had a indoor bathroom their whole lives. I remember visiting them ever summer for two weeks and dreading having to use the outhouse or the chamber pot at night. By then they had electricity and running water. Taking bathes in a big metal tub in the kitchen my mother would
have to heat the water on the stove first. All three of us my sister, brother and myself would bath in the same water. One thing I learned is people seem to be the happiest with the least amount of stuff!
DAVID A WILSON - November 6, 2021 2:27 pm
The writing makes tiers come to my eyes with happiness! When young knew people in the same position! THANKS for the reminder!
Kathy - November 6, 2021 2:31 pm
I love this one! We all need to be reminded that we are supposed to take care and love one another. That is why we were put on this earth, to shine the Lord’s love for all to see. In a country as wealthy as the United States no one should go to bed hungry! Thank you, Sean for sharing.
Colleen Hill - November 6, 2021 2:38 pm
What a uplifting story. I wonder if it really was a raffle. Sounds like a town got together to fix a problem and change the welfare of a family that God said…. go help.
Joy Voellinger - November 6, 2021 3:13 pm
JACKIE LEON DARNELL - November 6, 2021 3:14 pm
Sweet, good one Sean! THANKS
Jan - November 6, 2021 4:07 pm
What a beautiful story. Praise God for His people who care and live out His love …
AlaRedClayGirl - November 6, 2021 5:13 pm
Sweet story! Some people are always comparing themselves to others that have more money, etc. But they’ve got to realize there are many people that have much less than they do. That kind of perspective can make you more appreciative of what you do have.
Stacey Wallace - November 6, 2021 5:31 pm
God bless you, Sean. You made my day. As a retired English teacher, I am angered that 1 out of 6 children go to bed hungry in America. That is outrageous because of the amount of food our farmers grow. Our children should be fed.
MAM - November 6, 2021 6:28 pm
Thanks for the reminder, Sean! Yes, the poor are among us and it is our duty and privilege to help them however we can. With God’s help all is possible.
Maggie Priestaf - November 6, 2021 6:55 pm
Thank you, again for your stories of hope. You’re the best!!
H. J. Patterson - November 6, 2021 7:00 pm
The point to this story is simply that the charity came from the private sector and NOT the government! The private charities always know who needs it the most and the recipient was willing to help himself and his family. A way out not a hand out was all he wanted. May God bless those that do this very thing everyday.
Estelle - November 7, 2021 12:59 am
I assume you were the first to offer a man or woman a job in the worst way. To whom much is given much is required. Luke 12:48
Chasity Davis Ritter - November 6, 2021 7:32 pm
That was sure beautiful, Sean. What a blessing to this family.
Pilgrim, Jax Fl - November 6, 2021 7:34 pm
I don’t why, yet I had to wipe the tears from my eyes to post this comment.
Adrienne Possenti - November 6, 2021 7:42 pm
Yup, I can imagine real hunger. Back before your time, growing up in the Adirondack Mts if I was lucky enough to have a soft boiled egg to eat, the neighbor kids fought over who would get to eat the shell of my egg. At least I had a wee bit more to eat than just an egg shell.
Sarah Harlow - November 6, 2021 8:03 pm
Heart warming for sure!
Debbie g - November 6, 2021 8:16 pm
Beautiful story of love. Thanks for sharing Sean. Love to us all and let all of us pass love on
Steve McCaleb - November 6, 2021 8:21 pm
You’ve done it again…..you’ve made an old man cry. But it was a good cry…way better than most. I think it was Lincoln who said “ the Lord must surely love poor people…..look how many of them he made.”
David S Doom - November 6, 2021 8:42 pm
It is easy to go to church, it is harder, but much more worthwhile to be the church.
Linda Moon - November 6, 2021 8:58 pm
A little white clerical collar…that’s what the little girl noticed. But it’s so much more than a garment. I think there could be a novel-in-the-making from this story, and I can hear Mooney Lynn’s wife singin’ that song right now. Linda Moon (me) will sing it out loud in just a few minutes while thinking about the priest, the Tennessee teller, and the author of this post too. Oh my goodness.
Jerry Hamilton - November 6, 2021 9:18 pm
That is the church. Good people doing God’s work.
Patricia Schwindt - November 7, 2021 12:22 am
Out of the ballpark, Sean. You’ve done it again.. Thank you and God bless all those people who ARE the church!
Tom Wallin - November 7, 2021 12:48 am
WOW! What a wonderful story.
elizabethroosje - November 7, 2021 1:39 am
Powerful love. I had to read this one twice thanks Sean 🙏🕯❤
Christina - November 7, 2021 2:51 am
Karen Snyder - November 7, 2021 3:56 am
Thank you for this. It brought to mind a time from my childhood, sixty-five or sixty-six years ago, when folks from the church stepped up to help our parents through a temporary rough patch.❤️ It is a sweet memory.
Jimmie Slaton - November 7, 2021 4:44 am
As a Deputy Sheriff in North Alabama for 27 years I saw that scenario 100’s of times. I saw bright kids dimmed by malnutrition and little hope. Beautiful kids who had no reason to try. Beaten down by life before they even had a drivers permit let alone a car! Every time I saw this I wish the same story would happen for them! Thank you for using your influence to bring this problem to light. As always, great job Sean!
Karen Erwin-Brown - November 7, 2021 10:55 am
Gayle Wilson - November 8, 2021 9:39 pm
Sean, this is a story that needs to be in the newspapers across our nation to remind each one of us that there are people who through no fault of their own only need a ray of sunlight and opportunity.
Don Simms - November 17, 2021 1:12 am
What you do for the least of these, you do for me.
Sam Seetin - November 17, 2021 11:02 am
Blessed with an empathetic pen for goodness. You can’t be all things to all people. But you are close. Take care of yourself Sean. Uncle Sam
Gwen Holloway - November 18, 2021 3:21 pm
“And yet, currently, there are 13 million American kids living in homes without enough food. Or, to put it like this: One out of every six children will face hunger this year.”
I was a little girl when “commodities” were available for the Appalachian area where I lived. There were no food stamps, no welfare.
But no child or person should be hungry in this country. We have government subsidies that guarantee people have a plethora of their basic needs: food, housing, utility, clothing with many agencies and churches providing these items also.
However, families use these items to bargain, barter for drugs leaving their families without food. Making it a priority to throw more food at the problem only subsidizes the drug problem in this country. Maybe we should come at this problem of hunger in this country by preventing drug trafficking in addition to giving children food that’s actually eaten and not sold to it drugs for the adults in the family.