When local resident Jeremy Skinner walked into a Rotary Club of Forsyth County meeting earlier this month and remembered that he was supposed to bring in food to help the students of Chestatee Elementary School but had forgotten, he knew he had to do something.
"Of course, I roll into Rotary 15-20 minutes late, look at the table, see all the canned goods and think yeah, 'You're a [jerk]," Skinner said.
Skinner said that the club had gotten word that a program at the elementary school that sends more than 70 students in need home with food every weekend was seriously low on supplies for its students. Skinner said that he felt awful about forgetting to bring food for a school that his child goes to, that he went to, and that most of his extended family went to when they were young.
Knowing the food was being taken that night or early the next morning, he said he knew whatever he was going to do needed to happen that night.
“So I called my wife, told her what had happened, and she goes, ‘Cool, we’re going to Costco,” Skinner said.
Knowing that Costco closed at 8:30 p.m., and the time was 8:15 p.m., the Skinners rushed to the superstore praying that they would still be open and let them buy some boxes of food before the store closed.
When they got there, the store was still open, and a greeter told them that they would stay open until they got what they needed.
Skinner said that when they were finally in the store, they really started thinking about how much they could afford to give and what the students at the school would need.
"We're like anybody, we don't necessarily live paycheck to paycheck, but we have to budget for things,” Skinner said. “But when I picked up two big mega boxes of macaroni, I realized that's only 36 boxes of macaroni, and I'm like, 'Wait a minute. There's over 70 kids.’ So we just kind of started to step out on faith a little bit."
The couple threw caution to the wind, filling the buggy with more and more items, at first calculating their total in Skinner’s head, but finally tossing their budget out the window, resolved to help at any price.
"There was no doubt in my mind it was going on a credit card," he said with a laugh. “In my head I was thinking, 'This is more than we probably can afford, but I don't care, we're feeding these kids ... two boxes of macaroni is not going to get it done ... that doesn't feed 70 kids.’"
When they finally got to the front of the store, Skinner said the cart was filled to the brim and overflowing with macaroni, oatmeal, canned fruit and dozens of other food items.
At the register, the store manager and cashier, two of the last people in the store, could tell that it wasn't a normal shopping trip and asked who they were buying the food for.
Skinner said that they apologized for keeping them open so late, but due to the serious situation at Chestatee they had to buy everything that night.
"[The manager] shook his head and said, 'How does that even happen? ... We're the richest county in the state of Georgia and there are kids that go without meals?'" Skinner said.
Skinner said after everything had been scanned and boxed, their total reached $500. The store manager asked Skinner again if all of the food was for the students, or if anything in the buggy was theirs.
After the couple pulled out some 9-volt batteries and cheese Danishes that they had grabbed for themselves, Skinner said that the manager told them that their total was $26.18, before wishing them a good night and walking away.
"I went, 'Wait … $26.18?” Skinner said. “’I need to pay for the food for the school,’ and (the cashier) kind of glanced up, looked over at the shift manager and said not to worry about it ... go feed those kids."
Skinner and his wife were floored by the gesture, never expecting when they entered the store that something like that would happen.
"We were just blown away," he said.
The next day, he said they were able to take the carload of groceries to the school and pass that amazement and astonishment on to Chestatee Elementary, who desperately needed the food.
On Tuesday, Chestatee Elementary School Principal Polly Tennies commended both the Skinners and the Costco employees for helping them out in their time of need by seeing an opportunity to help and following through on it.
"I cannot say enough nice things about how they have stepped up and really just had a heart for their fellow man," Tennies said. "The fact that they thought that that was something that they could help with ... I just wish more people would think about others.
“To actually take an action step, I think that is the difference right there.”
She emphasized that any time you give back to your community, you never know who you might be helping, even in a community as affluent as Forsyth County, saying that it might be your neighbors or the kids your children play with at school.
Tennies said that anyone interested in learning about how they can help students in need at Chestatee Elementary with food, sponsorships and clothing donations can contact Leila Fondo at email@example.com or Meg Killingsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the end, Skinner said that the biggest takeaway from the event wasn’t his family, what they did, or even the act of giving itself. What really mattered to Skinner is that more than 70 students didn’t go hungry over the weekend.
"Just being willing to help sometimes is the biggest difference,” Skinner said. “Be the hand that feeds."