Roughly four weeks ago, after having a conversation with this editor, Hoodie's House of Hope created a program to attempt to help low-income children in Pulaski County for Christmas.
Saturday, Dec. 23, the families of those kids were able to come to the St. Robert Community Center and pick up the gifts from the gift drive. The Daily Guide spoke with Thomas Hood, of Hoodie's House of Hope, on both Friday and Saturday before Christmas.
Hood told the Daily Guide that his experience with organizing the program was a "roller coaster of emotions," but he plans to do it again next year because he realized "there really is a need."
The gift drive began after Hood and I had a conversation prior to Hoodie's House of Hope feeding event. He happened to walk in while I was mulling over the problem of there not being a program in Pulaski County for low-income children anymore. There are programs for military children, children in foster care, children who have had contact with the police or social services, but there wasn't a program that would help struggling low-income families.
Hoodie's House of Hope took on the task of trying to fill that gap with only four weeks until Christmas to organize it, get donations, and distribute. Saturday, the Daily Guide stopped by the Community Center to take some photos and see the results of the organization's hard work.
Families were invited to come by between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to pick up their bags filled with gifts for their children. The Daily Guide spoke with one of the volunteers, Stephanie Thomas, about the program. Thomas was one of the individuals who helped shop for toys.
Thomas told the Daily Guide that she had a "lot of fun" volunteering for Hoodie's House of Hope. The shopping part of it, buying gifts for the children and making dollars stretch as far as she could, was her favorite part.
Donations were an integral part of making the program happen. Hood told the Daily Guide he'd especially like to thank Mid Missouri Motors, Lowe's, Willard Asphalt, the American Legion, Walmart and a couple of special angels who swooped in at the last minute, as well as all of those who donated money, toys, time, and other resources to help make it all happen.
"I want to thank God for the opportunity and being able to reach out and help those that we've been able to help," Hood told the Daily Guide Friday.
There were some stand out moments for Hood during the four weeks between the organization's decision to try to tackle the program and distributing the gifts. Hood told the Daily Guide about two that really touched his heart.
The first was when he and the volunteers were going shopping at Walmart for the gifts for more than 200 children and 70 families. A volunteer in his organization heard of an individual that was interested in helping a family at Christmas. The volunteer steered the individual Hood's direction and the individual met Hood at Walmart on shopping day.
"He blew the lid off my head," Hood said.
The individual spent $853. This individual came at a time where Hood was beginning to feel a little disheartened because he "started seeing the demand" and "how many kids were piling up on the list."
"There were over 200 kids and the money didn't match what I would like to do for each child," Hood said.
Hood said in the end he felt good about what the organization was able to provide and the Daily Guide saw families walk out with large trash bags filled with items to take home and wrap for their children.
Another stand out moment happened the day of distribution. Hood told the Daily Guide he received a call about an additional 12 teenage girls, in special circumstances. He said at that point, he couldn't say no and thought he might put the purchases on his own credit card. He ran into another individual at Walmart who asked to take on the task and acted as an angel for those girls.
Hood was visibly choked up when he talked to the Daily Guide about how the woman asked to take on the task. After that moment, another man walked up to him and handed him a donation.
"I've learned a lot from this... patience, trust, belief, even more so than anything, I'm realizing there's a need out there," Hood said.
Hood said he plans to take on the task again next year, but plans to start earlier, see if Hoodie's House of Hope can get hooked up with Toys for Tots. Toys for Tots was not a possibility this year, due to the paperwork and process required to get approval. There just wasn't enough time.
"We can do this again next year," Hood said.