It started back in October of 2018. A hurricane called Michael hit the Florida Coast, the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the US since 1992. It incurred 25.1 billion dollars damage, took the lives of 43, and forever changed the lives of the people in the Florida Panhandle.
My grandson Levi and I watched on TV in awe. It got worse and worse. When it reached Dothan, 80 miles away, we had no idea of the damage it could do this far inland. As it finished its windy and watery journey, the world was shocked to see what devastation it left behind. Truly, it was heartbreaking.
Levi and I talked about what would become of the people and the buildings and the beach there. We prayed for the residents and the helpers who went to assist in the clean up. We talked about it for days. We remembered all the happy time we spent there. We both had been going to this wonderful beach town all our lives! And, then the holiday season was upon us and all the activities that go with that. It was pushed to the back of our minds as we focused on our own lives.
However, seasons pass, and life returns to a more normal pace. One morning, before school, we had the television on the news and a report came on about how little had been done and how much needed to be done. Help was not coming fast enough. Businesses were destroyed, homes demolished, and people were living in tents. Levi asked me, “Who is going to help all the people?” I told him that many had been helping, like his Uncle Will, a lineman, who had been there almost daily since it occurred. Levi replied, “I just don’t think that is enough, Lulu.” And, I agreed with him that no, it wasn’t.
We started talking about what we thought the people needed the most. I pointed out to him that there were lots of people sending food and clothes and basic necessities. “Are the schools gone, too, Lulu? What about the children, where will they go to school?” I didn’t have a good answer for him. But, we had seen pictures of schools with no roofs, where all the desks and books and tables and chairs were all blown away. I told him that all that had to be replaced. And, from his loving heart, he said, “I could send them some of my books.” Now this second grader is a voracious reader and looks on his books as very special to him. He has quite a collection. I told him that I would think on it a little bit and we would discuss it some more.
After he left for school, I got busy. What could one grandmother and one grandson do to make a difference? Where to even get the information? I talked to a friend in Panama City as a start. Then I called the school system and asked if there was someone in charge of donations to the schools. They put me in touch with a lady who was doing this. I texted her and asked what the biggest need was. She told me books. Not textbooks, or teachers books, but those books that teachers have bought through the years with their own monies to enrich their classrooms. These were books they would send home with the children to practice reading. These were the books the children could check out from the teacher to read for enjoyment. These were the books that added that extra that each classroom desperately needs. I thanked her for her information and told her we would be back in touch.
Levi and I talked about it the next day, and he thought that his second grade class at Providence Christian School would like to help, too. I contacted his teacher and she thought it was a great idea. And, our plan began to take wings.
She ran it by the principal to be sure, and our principal asked why didn’t the whole school participate? That was a great idea! Oh, my! our project is really getting big! We set the dates for the book drive, and asked the children to pick out books on their grade level, and bring them to school during the month of April. I went to the school and spoke to the students at chapel and explained the project to them. I used the verse in the Bible that reads, ” Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5: 13. I explained that this was what God told us to do…not if it was convenient…not if it was easy….not if we felt like it. We were to do it! Soon books began to pour in. Levi was excited and proud and took great responsibility to talk it up and encourage the students. A popsicle party was promised to the class that brought in the most books from each school.
Levi’s mother, my daughter in law, Suzanne, is a teacher at Slocomb Elementary School about 15 miles outside of Dothan. “What if we join the drive?” she asked. Great! She checked with her principal and she agreed, and now books were coming in at 2 locations! Even the Preschool where I worked for 20 years got involved…First Presbyterian Preschool. Books were flying fast into each of these places.
As April drew to a close, I began gathering the books. The first trip to pick up filled the back of my CRV and the back seat.
The next trip did also.
Thank goodness for strong boys who were willing to help.
At Slocomb, Suzanne already had over 600 books which by the end was over 800. We finally got all the books to my garage. Wow..Look at all these books! We discovered we had left one box behind at Providence, and even though it was heavy, Levi got it into my car.
Now comes all the sorting and the checking and the packing. My sweet friend, Tina, gave me a day, and we went through, putting books into piles, organizing into types and grade levels and boxing similar books.
This little man took part of his birthday money to buy books for the schools. Such an unselfish thing to do. His Mom helped him find where his money would go the furtherest and he added a big stack to our growing garage library!
It took a good long while. Suzanne was also going through books at her school. She went the extra mile, with her students. She had them look up grade levels for each book and tag it so it would be more convenient for the teachers in PC.
Levi told me from the beginning that his class was going to be the winner of the popsicle party, and he was right. Mrs. McClurkin’s class of second graders brought in 317 books! In Slocomb, Mrs. Owens’s fourth grade class brought in 160 books! And that class got a popsicle party too!
After texting back and forth with the coordinator and other teachers at the school board in Panama City, we set up a date to deliver the books. My husband, Don, borrowed a trailer and together, he and I loaded all the books into the back. We took off the next morning heading to PC. A caravan of sorts, Suzanne and Levi leading the way, Don and the truck, and me following behind. In our trailer we had books…big books, little books, mostly new books, a few gently used books but a truckload of books! In fact, we had over 1800 books!!! 1800!!!
We delivered to the Bay High School and there were students there waiting on us. They formed an assembly line from the truck, into the school, down the hall, and into a large art room! Levi and Don handed out every box of books to the students.
When we got inside there were representitives from other schools there to greet us and collect books to take to their schools.
They were so gracious and appreciative. And, Levi. He stood tall and proud. He answered boldly every question they asked him about our book project. He even told the Elementary School principal that “God says, that when we serve others, He will not forget it.” (” God will not forget how hard you have worked for Him and how you have shown your love to Him by caring for others.” Hebrews 6:10)
We made pictures, and shared hugs, and it was time for us to leave. We walked to the car. It was done. Our little talk at the breakfast table had turned into this. We all worked hard and did our part and together, we made a difference to some schools in need. Levi said, “I didn’t think it would be like that.” We asked him what he meant. He said, “That was great! They were so happy. I feel happy. ” I reminded him that doing good is its own reward. The feeling you get from helping others is as much for you as them. When we do the things God planned for us to do, we feel it all the way down in our hearts.
Later that afternoon, as we were sitting on the porch of our beach house, just me and Levi, I asked him if today had been a good day. He replied, “Oh, yes! Lulu, I still feel happy. I think God is happy, too, don’t you?” I do, Levi. Indeed, I do.
We love Panama City. We have visited since I was a baby…those that live here in Dothan and surrounding areas have too, I’m sure. We even have 2 little cottages on Laguna Beach. The Gulf of Mexico is a beautiful creation in God’s world and in thanks and gratitude for many years of pleasure, we share with them, as we can, in this tragedy.
Friends, there are as many ways to serve others in this world as there are thoughts that come to mind. This sprang into fruition from a tv newscast and talking with my grandson. It’s as easy as that. People are hurting. People are waiting. There are needs as great right here in Dothan. Find something that touches you and go for it! God will bless your efforts and He will not forget it.
Oh Tonja, this is such a special story!!
I couldn’t read this until today because I knew it would make me cry happy and grateful tears! Sure enough, I’m crying. Your sweet grandson’s heart and your commitment to help him spread the love of God in a practical way will never be forgotten! Thank you from the bottom of my emotional heart and give Levi a hug from this grandma!!
Thank you, Nancy. Our project turned out to be much bigger that what we started, but it grew into what it was supposed to be. The schools were so very kind and appreciative. It was lots of fun, lots of work…but lots of blessings!