Today at least, this story ends with a $296 check.
It started with a flood.
On Aug. 20-21, 11 inches of rain dropped on Madison, WI, and the surrounding areas, killing one man and destroying homes and vehicles.
Among those left homeless and without their cars were two elderly people, a man and a woman.
I don’t know much about them, not even their names.
But the pastor at my church sent out a plea for help. A family invited the man into their home. The woman’s relatives said she could stay with them. The church created a flood-relief fund.
My family and I decided to donate the money from our planned garage sale to the fund. We didn’t, however, have many things to sell.
So I asked friends and family for contributions. And, boy, did they deliver.
Puzzles, games, children’s clothes. Bathroom decor, shoes. Under-the-bed storage boxes. Homemade coasters and candle holders.
An Exersaucer. Jogging stroller. Pack ‘n’ play. Books. Leather and Columbia jackets.
So. Many. Toys.
Someone we know in Lodi who had picked up a dining room table set, intending to restore it for himself, donated it to the sale instead.
Friends let us borrow their trailer so we could pick up the table and chairs.
Our church lent us long tables to use in the sale itself.
My children baked cookies and manned their cookie stand. My daughter wrote a book of poems to sell with the cookies and cider.
After two unseasonably cold days, our grand total reached $296.
But that doesn’t include the collateral love.
There’s nothing like sitting outside your house for two days straight to give you opportunities to chat with your neighbors.
I’ve counted at least 10 conversations I had with friends and acquaintances specifically because of the garage sale:
One neighbor walked down with her three girls and donated a tricycle. Two other neighborhood girls stood in awe of the princess-dress collection and, giggling, bought a couple. Then all those kids, and mine, spent a solid 45 minutes running around and playing together.
Meanwhile, I chatted with their parents. And my friend stopped by on her birthday to buy a few things and show her support.
Steven from next door swung by to update me on some local news.
My neighbors from across the street stopped by to say “hi”, and then came back to donate a high chair.
My friend from down the street came and chatted for 10 minutes, just because we hadn’t seen each other in a while.
Another friend stopped by with her son — in between sports and Boy Scouts — for the sole purpose of donating $10. And she bought some cookies.
Clearly, there’s a lot $296 won’t do. It’s not going to find two people housing. It won’t replace their cars.
Maybe, though, it’ll buy them groceries. Maybe they can replace household essentials lost in the flood. Maybe it can cover a leftover electricity bill they’d otherwise struggle to pay.
But I know this much for sure: Two people needed help, and at least 25 people stepped up to give it.
(That doesn’t even include all the people who came to the sale, bought some things, frequently gave a bit extra, bought an overpriced homemade cookie and a cup of cider, or just slipped a $10 bill into the donation bucket and went on with the rest of their day.)
Yes, $296 will help a bit. But its real power, I think, is in the message it sends: “We see you. We love you. You’re not alone. We’re happy to help.”
“Love never fails,” the Bible reminds us.
I can’t wait to see what God’s love does next.
“One hand reaches out and pulls a lost soul from harm. While a thousand more go unspoken for, and they say, ‘What good have you done, by saving just this one?’ It’s like whispering a prayer in the fury of a storm.”
“And I hear them saying, ‘You’ll never change things. And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing.’ But it’s not the world that I am changing. I do this so this world will know that it will not change me.”