This is the time of the year when my psyche, after being worn down by the headaches, the hatred and the heartache around us, gets a much-needed pick-me-up from those wonderful news reports of secret Santas, free holiday dinners for the less fortunate, and communities banding together to help each other.
If we keep careful watch, though, we can get our mental batteries recharged this way pretty much year-round.
For me, this comes whenever I hear about people, some ordinary and others extraordinary, who pitch in in noteworthy ways. They lend a hand with no expectations for being rewarded, other than from self-satisfaction.
CBS reporter Steve Hartman introduces us to these people in his weekly “On the Road” reports. One of my favorite stories was about an 8-year-old boy from Toledo, Ohio, who found a $20 bill outside a restaurant there and gave it to a soldier who was dining inside with his family.
The boy wrapped the money in a note that has touched the hearts of people worldwide, starting with the recipient:
“Dear Soldier – My dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day. Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a Gold Star kid.”
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society later honored Myles as a young hero for funneling nearly $2 million for Gold Star families as word of his deed spread.
The best-known fundraising hero in Iowa this year has to be Carson King, who made the joking request for “beer money” during ESPN’s “College Game Day” broadcast. His hand-written sign was seen on national TV and mushroomed into a national frenzy when the unassuming 24-year-old Altoona man said he would pass all donations to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Money flowed like beer at a tailgate, coming to a staggering $3 million by the time it was all counted.
King was a humble conduit for the generosity of people across the United States. “There are thousands and thousands of great people out there,” he told the Des Moines Register. “It puts faith back in humanity. I’m just glad I can help out in any way.”
A month later, 9-year-old Sam Hall of Bondurant raised $16,000 for the Iowa City hospital by dressing as Carson King for his Halloween “costume.” Sam carried signs that read, “Root Beer Supply Needs Replenished” and “Instead of Candy, I Will Take Donations for the Children’s Hospital.”
The Evanses have played tiny roles in what has become an annual event that tugs at our hearts.
In 2014, Paul and Jennifer Storbeck, of Clive, lost their daughter, Camryn, 7, to neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer, after a draining fight that stretched nearly four years.
Every year since then, the Storbecks and their children, along with friends, relatives and coworkers, have honored Camryn by collecting toys and art supplies for other children who are fighting tough battles of their own at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.
Their efforts culminate each summer with a Christmas in July party that spills out of the Storbecks’ yard and into the streets. Santa Claus is there, along with a princess, a fire truck and a face-painter.
There’s a common thread that runs through all of these heroic volunteers: These examples of charity are carried out by selfless people who are looking to help others.
That reminder is oh so timely now because of controversy that has enveloped a charity that was begun by two all-star Iowa natives, actor Ashton Kutcher and former University of Iowa Hawkeye and NFL standout Dallas Clark.
Kutcher and Clark established the Native Fund in 2014 to help Iowa communities in need after seeing the devastation caused by floods. Two years later, they hired former Hawkeye quarterback Kyle McCann, now a Des Moines lawyer, to oversee the charity as its salaried chief executive and attorney.
A recent column in the Cedar Rapids Gazette disclosed the astonishing news the Native Fund paid McCann nearly $600,000 in four years, while its charitable grants totaled half that amount.
The Native Fund organized fund-raising concerts at Kinnick Stadium in 2016 and at the Iowa Speedway in 2017 that featured Blake Shelton, Big and Rich, and Metallica. Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz reported expenses for both events exceeded the revenue, leaving no profits to distribute to worthy causes, based on public reports the fund filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Those concert expenses included a $1 million payment to Shelton, the charity’s IRS Form 990 showed.
Kutcher’s and Clark’s intentions were admirable. It’s not a sin to try something and fail.
But there is something to be said for grassroots charity — the kind that is performed every year across Iowa with collection canisters placed on store counters to help a local family, or the Go Fund Me account created to help a family winterize its house, or the soup suppers churches and community groups organize to provide a big gift of cash to someone facing a medical crisis.
We see this each year when a farmer’s friends show up with their grain wagons and combines to harvest his crops while he recovers from surgery or while his family mourns his passing.
And we see this when folks like Carson King and Sam Hill, the Storbecks and Myles Eckert see a need and address it without fanfare — or six-figure executive salaries.