I should not be here today. There is not an "if," an "and," or a single "but" about it. I've been thrown out of a moving Jeep at 60MPH. I survived stage-three cancer. I can't begin to tell you how many scrapes I dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged out of throughout my teenage years. Lucky, even blessed, does not come close to describing my journey.
Because of this, I have an unnatural desire to help make the world a better place for anyone I can. It's my own personal meaning of life, and while I don't always succeed at living this out, I never stop trying. Much has been given to me, and to that end, I owe much in return.
Now, the "much" in that last statement is a highly subjective thing, because each of the gifts we have been given are vast and varied. And it's not so much even a religious thing. Yes, faith is an active part of my life, but I have several friends who are complete and utter atheists who have been given much. Some of these people are exceptionally smart. Others have an innate talent for business and strategy. Others have staggering gifts of oratory brilliance. Some even possess an inner peace that radiates out to everyone they come in contact with.
As for me? I can B.S. with the best of them. I like to talk... and I can talk a lot. I love telling stories to anyone who will listen. When I used to work in radio, my producer and compatriot Courtney used to ask me any random question. Once she'd heard enough she'd simply walk away. She did not appreciate when I'd walk after her continuing my dissertation.
Well... she asked for it.
I also have the blessing of not being afraid to look at cancer. I can't tell you the number of times when a friend calls and says, "I know this person who has cancer. What should I say? What shouldn't I say?" Usually, I tell them stories that help to relate what their friend or coworker or relative is going through, and thankfully, it seems to help.
But some of the stories that I love to tell above all others are the ones about people who truly want to make a difference in the world. And the gifted ones are those who use what they know to achieve this goal.
Meet Ted and Katie. Ted is a renowned local artist in St. Louis, and Katie is a world class chef. Katie spent a good chunk of her youth studying cooking in Italy. What was born from this well-spent youth was a Wild Boar Ragout and oven fired pizza that will make you weep. But that's not why I'm telling you this.
Ted and Katie met a few years ago and fell in love. They wanted to make that love permanent, so they decided to get married and open a restaurant called Katie's Pizza and Pasta. Sounds reasonable. And nuts.
But a few months after they opened the doors, they realized that they had quickly developed a St. Louis institution. The place is always packed with people who love the food, and love Ted and Katie even more. To say they've been given a lot is an understatement.
So I was pleasantly surprised and blown away when I popped onto their Facebook page a few months ago and saw that they had decided to do something philanthropic with their success. "Give Back Tuesdays" was born.
On the third Tuesday of every month, Katie and Ted throw out the Bat Signal to come to the restaurant, because on that day and night, they give 100 percent of their profits to a local charity.
Read that again: 100 percent of their profits to charity. Seriously, who does that? I've heard of restaurants generously donating a portion of their proceeds to charity on a special night, and they should absolutely be commended for it.
But ALL of them?
One month, they donated to a charity that helps children from birth to age 21. The next, they gave to a hospital. They've also given to a food pantry. And the donations are not small. So far, they've averaged well over $2,000.
And I was dumbstruck when they contacted me and said, "We want to help your organization, the Half Fund."
To whom much is given...
When I found this out, I immediately started thinking out loud, "Okay, who can I help? Who needs it the most?"
I got my answer on the day after the Ferguson riots, which took place not 10 miles from our nice warm house. I remember being up that night, watching the city burn, so angry by what I was seeing. I got even more upset when I saw the carnage the next day. And amidst the rubble, Natalie Dubose would rise from the ashes.
Natalie is a gifted baker. She used to sell her cakes at local farmers markets. They were so good, that her small legion of devoted fans would tell her, "You have to open your own place." So through hard work, saving her money, and continuing to put out the best cakes you can imagine, she made her dream come true by opening "Natalie's Cakes and More."
Two months before Michael Brown's name hit the headlines.
As we watched Ferguson burn on that fateful Monday night in November, one of the businesses being looted was "Natalie's Cakes and More." She stood in front of her store, begging the rioters not to attack her business. But nothing could satiate the mob, and they broke through her window anyway. When she talked about it the next day to a reporter, a picture was snapped of an inconsolable Natalie. She thought her life as she knew it was over.
Enter Kristine Froeba and Dave Swingle... two people whom Natalie had never met. Kristine and Dave had never even met each other. Yet both people saw that picture of Natalie and read her story, and both sprung into action. Kristine reached out to Natalie and said, "I want to help you. We're going to put together a Facebook page for you, as well as a 'Go Fund Me' page." Natalie had no idea what GFM even was, but she gladly accepted the help from this new stranger turned friend.
But Dave was also utterly moved by the story. He started a GFM page for Natalie, which is how I heard of this story. I stumbled across the page, and I was so blown away by this stranger's token of generosity. So I shared it on my Facebook page. And many of my friends shared it on theirs. And then Dave and Kristine finally got together via phone, and he realized that all of the efforts should be put into one basket, and he said, "Kristine, it's all you. You've got this. And thank you!"
And then I popped onto the GFM site, and the $20,000 request had turned into over $40,000 in donations. We were all in the midst of a miracle gone viral.
So that night, I reached out to a friend who is a producer for one of the "Big Three," who has a wickedly awesome philanthropic streak. By 6:30 the next morning, the day before Thanksgiving, my friend and I started going back and forth. I got a hold of Dave, who put me in contact with Kristine. I was able to get Kristine, Dave, and my friend together by that evening, and they were going to try make something happen on a national, and even international level.
Natalie was overwhelmed. She had no idea that any of this would happen. And at first, she had to decline most interview requests because she had to finish the cakes she promised her customers for Thanksgiving.
And as of the writing of this, the "Natalie's Cakes and More" GFM page has garnered over $265,000 dollars. It is a phoenix, born from the ashes of a broken city.
To whom much is given...
And now when you visit Natalie's Facebook page, she is posting tirelessly to help other businesses damaged or destroyed by the Ferguson riots. When she writes about the businesses, she always includes something about the people behind the businesses. Because, especially with small businesses, it's not the actual business that brings you back; it's the people who dreamed to share their gifts with the world who make the difference.
I know the phrase "Pay it forward" is overused a lot these days, but this is exactly what is happening in every hamlet of every village of every town of every city in this amazing country. Sometimes, through the smoke, it's a little hard to see, and it's easy to get down. But I'm an optimist, and as long as we have people like Katie and Ted and Natalie and Kristine and Dave and my dear producer friend, we're going to be okay.
Click HERE to visit Natalie's GFM page.