Just when you think there is no hope for us, along comes a ray of sunshine.
There was a letter to the editor in Wednesday’s paper that caught my attention. It was from a Sutherlin couple named Kathleen and Waldo King (Waldo, by the way, is one of the all-time great names), detailing an experience they had early this month while shopping at Fred Meyer in Roseburg.
According to Waldo and Kathleen, they were getting ready to go through the check-out counter when “two young people dressed in National Guard attire stepped forward and asked if they could help us unload. A few moments later,” according to the letter, “a woman walked over to us and said she and her family would like to pay for our groceries, as a way of saying thank you to our senior citizens!”
The letter to the editor went on to say that Kathleen and Waldo wished they had gotten the names of their surprise benefactors so they could properly thank them.
The next day I got an e-mail from a guy named Jay, who happened to know the identities of the woman and the two young uniformed National Guard members.
The woman was Jill Hawkins-Schroeder and the two young people were her children, Hank, 18, and Hannah, 20. Jill works for Knife River Materials in Roseburg, and her husband, Gary, works for C&D Lumber Co. in Riddle.
It’s important to note here that I tracked Jill down. She and her family didn’t do this for publicity, or recognition. I simply persuaded her to allow me to recognize them, hoping their story will inspire others to pass it forward.
Jill said the family pulled their money together because they wanted to give something back to the senior citizens who have sacrificed so much for their country and community. “We wanted to let them know we appreciate them,” she told me. “We didn’t do it during Christmas because we were out of town. It was also important that we do something that needs to be done year-round and not just for the holidays.”
The family shops at Fred Meyer and, after speaking with store management, learned that the store offers a Senior Day the first Tuesday of every month, discounting merchandise by 10 percent to qualifying senior citizens.
“We felt that would be a perfect time to go in and see if we could offer some help,” Jill said. The family had pooled together $1,400 for the grocery giveaway.
Three of Jill and Gary’s five children are members of the National Guard. One of them (Jason) is in basic training, so Hank and Hannah accompanied their mother to Fred Meyer on Jan. 7.
Hank and Hannah — both graduates of Umpqua Valley Christian High — wore their uniforms, hoping it would put the seniors a little more at ease.
I called Kathleen King and put her in touch with Jill and her family. Kathleen said she gets “choked up” recalling that encounter in an otherwise routine shopping trip.
“We had a bunch of bread in the shopping cart because we also like to feed the deer,” she told me. “These two uniformed young people just started talking to us about the deer and then asked if they could help us unload the groceries. The next thing I knew they wanted to pay for the groceries. I felt halfway embarrassed because I bought a phone card for my cellphone, but they said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’”
She also said she planned to pay it forward. “It makes the person who receives this want to do something.”
Jill knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. “I was a single mom for 10 years and when someone would do something for me, it provided that needed cushion from having to make it from one month to the next,” she said. “Everyone needs a break.”
Most of us would like to believe we’ve been put on this Earth to make a difference, or, as Jill put it, “You only hope that you touch people from time to time.”
There is something to this conscious effort to encourage a greater sense of the many needs that surround us. No matter how tough you have it, you can almost always find someone who has it just a little bit worse, and therein rests the opportunity to improve your own lot in life.
I was waiting in line at the Starbucks drive-thru the other day with my family. When we got to the window, we learned that the driver in the car in front of us had paid for our order, with instructions that we do the same someday.
We paid it forward a few days later, and I’m guessing the chain continues.
Amid the scandals and corruptions and misdeeds that often fill our information pipes, it’s good to see we are still a species capable of embracing total strangers we bump into on our brief walk through life.
• News-Review Publisher Jeff Ackerman can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.