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On Black Friday this year, the only thing many of us wanted to do was brave crowds of shoppers and find the best bargains or stay put at home, safe and sound with our Thanksgiving leftovers.
All 17-year-old Kaitlyn Shook wanted to do was raise awareness about how good we have it and how many others — including some of our neighbors — aren’t so fortunate in this season of celebration.
“Her passion/compassion for the less fortunate stems from a homeless man she met a few years back and a year later learned, from your paper, he had sadly passed away — alone, in the woods behind a church in Little River, S.C.,” her mother, Ronda Shook, wrote to the Beacon. “It broke her heart, and she has never forgotten him.”
So Kaitlyn, an Early College High School senior who has grown up here in Shallotte, put her money where her mouth is.
She spent the night before Black Friday standing at Shallotte Crossing shopping center with a sign reading “I have food, I have shelter, I could even go Black Friday shopping, but this year I choose to help those who don’t have the things I have.”
It wasn’t something Kaitlyn necessarily planned to do, Ronda said.
“She literally the day before Thanksgiving, rushed to make these signs, acquire permission to stand in front of Papa John’s, and convince both me and her boyfriend to assist her,” Ronda wrote.
Kaitlyn said she’d seen where a man in New York did something similar outside a busy shopping center to successfully draw attention to the plight of the needy.
“I realize I can do something myself,” she said.
Kaitlyn for several months has been in contact with Brunswick County Streetreach Inc., an interfaith coalition that provides emergency shelter and meals to people in need, to learn about ways she can help. She also said she is looking to support the Second Santa project, which provides toys and other items to families in need at the holidays.
For now, though, her goal is simpler.
“My goal was, well, it didn’t matter if I raised any money,” Kaitlyn said. “I did it more to raise awareness.”
That she did, her mother said.
“At first, people were a little standoffish,” and maybe even a little suspicious of her intentions, Kaitlyn said, before some passersby began to warm up to her and her cause.
“It was humbling to say the least,” Ronda said. “When I mentioned not being able to feel my toes while we were out there, she reminded me that I had a warm bed and home to go to afterward and that we were not dependent on the outcome of our mission, as most folks who hold similar signs are dependent on the kindness of others. That, too, was humbling for me.
“I must admit, I was disheartened that she only raised $18, but she, unlike myself, was focused on the awareness she was spreading. Probably hundreds read our signs as they waited in line for Belk to open that night. She reminded me, ‘That is how you spread awareness: by getting the message out.’ To her, the money was icing on an already baked cake.”
Kaitlyn said she intends to stretch that $18 as far it will go for Streetreach, likely by buying gloves, knit caps or scarves, or a combination of them, to give to the churches that are a part of the ministry.
Streetreach says the demand for services is increasing weekly and it is “in desperate need of gas vouchers, $5 food cards from any restaurant, and new sleeping bags.” Further details are available by calling (910) 842-2711, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org going to the ministry’s website, www.bcstreetreach.org.
Each week our pages are filled with news of good things going on in Brunswick County, and so many people — young and old, on their own or as part of a group — are doing their part to make a difference in the lives of those who need help. Ours is a community that cares, and Kaitlyn is a product of this environment.
Kaitlyn said the response to her impromptu awareness campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, with many of her friends asking how they can get involved. She said she plans to make her Black Friday effort a new annual tradition. She figures the holiday spirit is contagious, so a little effort and a lot of good cheer can go a long way.
Indeed, it can.
Jackie Torok is the managing editor of the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.