Joann Cayce distributes products and clothing to those in need.
I “met” Joann Cayce in the pages of a woman’s magazine in the early 1990s. She had just won a national award for her 30 years of volunteer service to those who lived in the impoverished Arkansas delta area, near her home in Thornton.
She not only distributed food and clothes to the families, I read, but found school supplies, a dentist appointment or a court order when needed.
I wanted to help, and Joann’s daughter, Joannie, told me that they always needed children's shoes “so kids can get to school in the cold weather.”
It was hard for me to believe that some children in our country had no shoes, but that was one of the differences between the city poor and the rural poor, the women explained.
Those who lived in low population areas tended to get lost in the government red tape. What they had, for the most part, was what people like the Cayce family provided.
As years passed, I shopped garage sales, regularly shipping gently used shoes, clothes and toys to Arkansas. On Thanksgiving 2002 the Cayces fed more than a thousand families, but they were exhausted and discouraged by the unending need. Would Christmas come to Thornton this year? How could I help?
I turned to my website subscribers. I write books and post stories about angels, the heavenly kind. But surely people were meant to be earth angels, especially at Christmas. We could send socks, I thought, they were affordable and comforting.
My subscribers responded immediately. As packages from strangers around the world began to arrive, Joann’s enthusiasm returned.
The boxes contained more than socks. People sent sweaters and clothes, encouraging notes and cash for Christmas dinners. There were miracles in those boxes too:
• On December 23, teenagers from Elk Grove, Illinois, filled a truck with donated toys, and their church leaders drove all night to Arkansas. They pulled into the Cayce driveway the very moment Joannie had given away the last toy.
• A few hours later, local Boy Scouts left a food basket and socks for a destitute family. When the mother saw the pile, she counted out 50 precious cents and walked a mile to a pay phone. “Someone left some socks at our house,” she told Joann. “They can't be ours—we've never had socks.”
“You do now,” Joann assured her. “Someone who cares about you sent them.” The woman wept.
• Joannie put a batch of men’s white tube socks aside. Months later, when she took snacks to the high school football team before the first game, she noticed that none of the players were wearing socks. “The school provides uniforms but not socks,” the coach told Joannie. “The boys can’t afford them, so we often have to forfeit the games because we don't have complete uniforms.” Joannie knew just where to look.
Before the 2002 holidays had ended, 25,000 pairs of socks had found their way to Thornton.
Today, many people have adopted this little town as their own, and are probably busy right now putting together a box. However small or modest, its helps. After all, isn’t that the work of angels?
The Cayces take anything usable, all year around:
Joann Cayce Charities
403 South Second Street
Thornton, AR 71766
Find more blogs and articles by Joan Wester Anderson.