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Stories, Poems and Humor
Left Book Mrs. B's Thanksgiving Surprise
by Helminski, Suzanne L.
Right Book

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Language: English

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Todd Zimmerman was not altogether happy to be working on Thanksgiving Day. As one of a skeleton staff of five manning the State of Maryland's EBT Help Desk (the state's alternative to food stamps), the morning seemed to stretch on. As lunchtime approached, it was hard not to fantasize about the feast his family was preparing, and the laughter and stories that would be told.

Before his lunch break, a call came in from an elderly woman who was obviously distressed.

"I was at the grocery store buying food, but my purchase didn't go through!" she said. "The clerk said the transaction was denied."

Todd knew the questions to ask, and it wasn't long before he diagnosed the problem: the woman's temporary card had expired. Apparently she hadn't understood that she needed to obtain a permanent card.

"Oh, but...but I hadn't collected my $10 from October either! I purposefully left it on account to put together with this $10 for a Thanksgiving dinner."

"I'm sorry," Todd said sympathetically. "Do you have any food in the house?"

"No...not really, I was saving up for today, you see. My family thought they were going to be able to come, and I wanted to have a nice meal for them. But something came up, and they can't make it." There was a catch in her voice. "I guess it's just as well."

After she hung up, Todd couldn't get her off his mind. He realized that because of the error this woman, whom he knew only as "Mrs. B," would not only be alone, she'd also go hungry on Thanksgiving Day, all for want of $20. Determinedly, Todd called the grocery store where the woman's transaction had been denied, his own credit card at the ready.

Sorry, they said, no phone orders. And they didn't deliver, and couldn't make an exception today of all days. They also had a skeleton crew and more customers than they could handle.

Lunchtime came. Todd suddenly didn't care that he was eating cafeteria food. Two of his coworkers, Kim Twito and I, took lunch with him, and together we vowed to do whatever we could to solve Mrs. B's problem.

Back at the help desk, we let our compatriots, Julie Simon and Mark Liessmann, in on the dilemma. Working together, we felt we could surely staff the phones while finding a Thanksgiving dinner for Mrs. B.

Unfortunately, by then, virtually every grocery store in Mrs. B's county was closed or closing. None would deliver.

Exhausting the Yellow Pages, one of our coworkers thought of Chesapeake Beef, a grocery store with which EBT had a high volume of business and a good relationship.

Chesapeake Beef was closed for Thanksgiving.

"The owners, Stas and Mary Witezak, are very nice people," I said. "They might know of a local store that's open. I bet they wouldn't mind if I called them at home, even if it is a holiday."

"I'm sorry," said Mary, "I can't think of any open stores. But you know what? I have a better idea. It sounds like Mrs. B lives about 15 miles from here. We've finished our dinner, but we still have plenty left! Let us bring Thanksgiving to her. I'll put the kids to work making a special card while Stas and I get together a meal. Oh - but please let her know someone is coming. We're unexpected strangers, and we don't want to frighten her."

This was easier asked than accomplished. EBT didn't have Mrs. B's phone number, which was unlisted. However, the telephone operator was willing to call Mrs. B and ask her to return a call to Todd at the Helpline.

When a confused Mrs. B called back, Todd simply told her that friends were coming with a surprise.

Several hours later, Stas Witezak called in. "Thanks so much for giving our family the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life," he said. "Mrs. B very much appreciated the food, but what really touched her were the cards the children made. She nearly cried when she read them. Her response was to ask if she could hug them - and they happily let her."

Mrs. B called back, too. She thanked everyone involved in her Thanksgiving surprise.

When our shift ended, the five of us who had reluctantly come to work that Thanksgiving bade each other farewell with a smile. Though we didn't say it, we were all recalling Mrs. B's words: "I've always been a Christian - but now I know for sure there is a God!"

"Happy Thanksgiving!" said Todd as we parted ways. And in fact, it had been the happiest Thanksgiving of all.

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