A Heartwarming Holiday Tradition
10 Points That Lasted 25 Years
December 2021 Issue
by Katie Shuler
As a junior in high school, it was almost time to take midterm exams. I dreaded midterms, but my French teacher made us students an offer I couldn’t refuse: If you participated in the old folks Christmas food drive, she would add 10 points to your midterm score. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have a clue what I was signing up for, but for 10 extra points, I would be there!
I arrived at our high school along with many others and saw hundreds of paper grocery bags lining the walls of the gym. With the bags all numbered and in perfectly straight lines, the organized chaos commenced. Apparently, if any student had overdue library fees in December, they were allowed to bring in two canned goods and all was forgiven. The high school also partnered with one of the local elementary schools that held a contest to see which class could collect the most canned goods. All the donated items were then divided and distributed evenly among the numbered bags.
This food drive had been going on in the community for years. Local businesses, alumni, friends and families donated money to this event every year. With so many years of experience, a pre-order was placed with a local grocery store for pick up on the day of the event. Quantities, goods, prices, and other details were predetermined. But wait, there’s more…
Standing in the gym, I heard someone yell my name, “Katie! You’re going to the store.” Again, I had no idea what all that entailed, but off I went. That’s when I learned that it had been a good year for donations; we needed to spend an additional $2,500 beyond what had already been ordered—just necessities, no frills. We were delivering to 97 families. One of my teachers asked that I grab a buggy and follow closely.
Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the grocery store floor, counting boxes of Jello, and tossing them over my shoulder into the buggy. We moved on to Spam, instant mashed potatoes, Vienna Sausage, canned chili, and the list went on, buggy after buggy, item after item. We got numerous bizarre looks and questions, but after a brief explanation, what seemed like shenanigans all made sense. As people saw us and heard about our mission, I was flabbergasted at the amount of people who contributed more cash, and therefore, continued our shopping. But finally, we spent all the money given, down to the last penny, and back to the school we went to disperse the bounty into each numbered bag.
At that point all of the students, volunteers, teachers and administrators gathered for a quick lunch, and I assumed we were about to wrap up for the day. After all, we started at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday, and it was almost 1:00. How much more could they really want us to do, right? WRONG!
Back into the gym we went and divided into caravans. Groceries were safely packed into cars. It was time to deliver food and learn what the day was truly about. Before anyone left the gym, we were given some very intriguing information…to me anyway. This group was delivering food to 97 locations. In total, we had spent over $6,000 in groceries added to what was donated by students. We were told that some dwellings we would be visiting didn’t have running water, or a way to heat food. Some had dirt floors, some would invite us in, some would be emotional; whatever the case was, we were to smile and wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And, the journey began.
I ended up riding in the car with the teacher who started the food drive, and that was the BEST car to be in. I truly believe that God had a hand in where I ended up that day. I got to hear the story of how it all began, and I was stoked to get started.
I have never been shy, so I gladly volunteered to jump out of the car and ring the bell or knock on the door to see if anyone was home. Let the fun begin! I loved every minute of explaining why five cars, eleven teenagers and six adults were in their front yard and telling them Merry Christmas and Happy New year! I saw smiles, tears, embarrassment, gratitude, and love from many of the places we visited. We even sang a random carol or two.
After going to 10 or 12 houses, we were out in the middle of nowhere. We pulled up to a shack. It looked like something out of a Stephen King novel with boards falling off, small holes on the sides, no shingles to speak of, but there was smoke coming from the roof. I asked, “Are we really stopping here? No one really lives here, do they?” I was assured we were at the correct location, so I jumped out. After all, that was my job, and it was so much fun.
I carefully went up the three wooden stairs that I wasn’t sure would support me and knocked on the door. It took a moment, but I finally heard something. I heard a man’s voice from the other side of the door. He said, “Get off my porch. I have a gun and I’ll shoot.”
Being young and naïve, I knocked again and happily exclaimed, “We’re here to bring you food for Christmas!” I was given the same response about the gun, shooting me, and that he didn’t have any money. Only this time it was much louder. He cracked the door open, and I could see the gun in his hand. The teacher heard the man yelling and screamed for me to get back in the car. But something inside of me wouldn’t let it go. Who wouldn’t want our food? I looked back at the teacher and held up a finger as to motion one more minute. The teacher looked at me like she was horrified and about to leave me there, and I didn’t care.
I calmly explained that he didn’t need money or his gun. We were bringing food to folks for Christmas to brighten up the holidays. If he wanted or needed the food, we would be happy to bring it inside, or simply leave it out front if he preferred. I looked into the eyes of this stranger and saw tears. I asked, “Are you hungry? If so, we want to help. If not, all you need to do is close the door, and I will leave you alone as you requested. If you would like us to bring the food inside, I need you to put the gun down. I promise, no one is here to hurt you.”
The door slowly opened, and I motioned for the other students to bring all eight grocery bags to the door. He invited us in. As I looked around the room, I noticed holes around the bottom of the walls. Empty bottles were placed side by side along the holes to keep the cold air out. Fire was coming from a hole in the floor, and the smoke went through a hole in the roof. There was one cracked window, no pictures on the walls, and from what I could tell, nothing that required electricity. The only things visible were an old wooden chair, a tattered American flag that hung on the wall, and an old rugged handmade cross.
After placing his groceries on the floor, he asked that we all hold hands, and his words remain with me today: “Heavenly Father, I am a failure and have nothing to give except your love and a prayer for these young adults. Please, bless them Lord as they have blessed me today. Remind them what this season is truly about, and that Your word will help them at all times. Amen. Matthew 25:35.” He hugged us all through tears and wished us well. He dried his face, and I dried mine. That was our last stop for the day. I got back in the car and started thinking about everything I had seen that day. Poverty, sickness, hunger and loneliness were just a few of the sights. I began thinking about my Christmas list and how incredibly blessed I truly was. I was asking for a car, a laptop computer, a ruby ring and too many other things to recall. I grabbed a pen and wrote Matthew 25:35 on my hand. I had no clue what it said and wondered what this man was referencing.
I came home that day with a different perspective. I had a new appreciation for the people in my life and everything that was provided for me. I was grateful that God was with me that day and for his protection. It was time to appreciate everything I had taken for granted, the little things, basics, and the true reason for the season. I was almost 16 that Christmas, and I made myself a few promises: 1. No matter where I am in life, make it a point to go home and participate in the “Old Folks Food Drive.” 2. Find ways to help throughout the year. People are in need 365 days a year, not just at Christmas.
For the next six years, I went to that same house. I knocked on the door and said, “It’s Katie from the high school. We have food for you again this year. He would always crack the door with gun in hand, smile and ask, “Do I still have to put the gun down to get the food?” I would just grin, nod and get a hug.
The seventh year I returned to participate in the food drive I walked in to find familiar faces, hugs and cheerful greetings from people I hadn’t seen since the previous year. I continued walking around the gym, when someone from behind, placed their hands over my eyes. I could tell the person was tall, and I heard a very soft spoken “Merry Christmas, Katie.” The man I had always seen through a cracked door with a gun in his hand, had come to participate in the food drive. He pulled me aside and said, “I’m no longer in need, so I’m here to give.” He had never forgotten me, or what this food drive had done for him. It was his turn to bless others, as we had blessed him. He was eager to get started and was happy to join those on my route. He asked if he could take my job of knocking on doors, and I happily obliged. Watching this old man was like watching a small child on Christmas morning. My heart was filled with gratitude and appreciation once again. Gratitude, appreciation, and helping others fills the heart every time.
The food drive is no longer happening in this way due to changes in district policy. But I am grateful to have participated for 25 years. Those 10 extra points on the French midterm turned into eternal extra points for life.