By Laura Ann Tipps and Donna Thornton
Christmas 2013 turned out to be a special one for Jane Skipper, and many people in and around Gadsden, not because of gifts received, but of the opportunity to give to a family truly in need.
Skipper said she was driving home on Christmas Eve and noticed a family walking along Rainbow Drive – a man, woman and three young children. “They didn’t have anything. No bags, no luggage, no coats,” she said.
By the time she turned her vehicle around to check on them, they were at the Shell Station at Whorton Bend Road. Skipper said she got out and started talking to them. Soon a friend and neighbor, Billy Kemp, was there, too.
They learned the family, Timothy Jordan, Jennifer Gill, and children Cheyenne Fouraker, 11, Lance Fouraker, 10, and David Fouraker, 9, had hitchhiked from South Pittsburgh, Tenn. to Gadsden. They were trying to make their way to Folkston, Ga., where Gill had relatives they could stay with.
Their story was one too common in recent years of bad economy. After losing his job, Jordan and his family moved in with another family, only to have that family lose their home to foreclosure, putting the Jordan-Gill family on the road.
“We had to get those children out of the cold,” Skipper said. “They had on light-weight sweatshirts,” she said, and the temperature registered 27 degrees.
She and Kemp took to the Motel 6 nearby and got them a room. Calls were made to other friends who helped to bring supplies for the family. Dr. Larry Grimes brought new clothes he’d received and gave them to the family. Larry King brought things the family needed. The lady from the Shell Station brought doughnuts and soft drinks.
Gadsden and Rainbow City police and firefighters helped, and the police found out the family’s story checked out.
Someone took the family out to eat and others brought food to them. Backpacks were purchased for the children, Skipper said, packed with toys “they’d always dreamed of getting:” a doll the little girl had wanted; Lego sets the boys wanted.
People gave money, nice clothes, luggage and whatever else the family needed, it seemed.
Among those who helped were Charles and Elaine Brown, who saw posts on Etowah Upscale Exchange. Samanatha Hill, a Gadsden dispatcher, who learned of the family through an officer who did a welfare check on them.
“He called in afterwards and I asked him if he truly believed their story,” Hill said. “Sadly, we have a lot of people who like to rip others off. He said he believed them so much that he gave them his last $15.
“After hearing that they had three young children my heart was broken. I have three small children myself, and the thought of them being without Christmas didn’t sit well with me,” Hill said. She contacted the Gadsden Fire Department, to see if they had toys from the annual Toys from Santa drive to provide for these children. The fire department went to work on the toys, and Hill said she started thinking of how to get word out to meet the family’s other needs.
“I then thought about the fastest way to talk to the most people and that’s when I decided to post to the exchange group,” she said. “I was amazed at how fast everyone jumped up to help. A Christmas miracle is truly all I can say about the whole situation.”
Hill said seeing all the donations, she questioned how the family could get their gift on the bus.
About that time, another donor brought backpacks for the kids and luggage, containing gifts and toiletries.
“I was amazed at the amount of people that would just show up and hand me money,” Hill continued. “Two dispatchers managed to buy new shoes for the whole family besides the dad. Someone had already donated a new pair of leather boots for him. It was so inspiring to see all these strangers step up. We managed to get nine bags fully loaded down with clothing, shoes, and other items and $320 cash.
As for the Browns, they contacted Hill to see if anyone was providing lunch for the family on Christmas day.
“On Christmas morning, Charles and I loaded hot (homemade vegetable) soup, all the fixings needed for them to enjoy it, added a platter of pie and cake, a package of Christmas Oreos, drinks (including milk Chugs for each child) in the car and took off,” Elaine said.
They found the family waiting, she said, with the sweet children offering to bring in the food for them, and the family very grateful for all the help provided.
“The father said they had never been treated so kindly as the people of this area had done,” she said.
“On the way to the motel, and then on the way home, we talked about what a blessing it had been to us to help a family in need,” Elaine said. “It felt so right to be spending that part of Christmas Day doing good.”After all the help during their time in Gadsden, the family had a 4 p.m. bus to catch.
Skipper said she and Kemp went to the Greyhound bus station to ask about getting bus tickets for the family. “The lady there was so nice. She said it was only 15 minutes until closing,” Skipper said, when they arrived. She stayed late to help them, and got them the best deal on five bus tickets for the Christmas Day bus ride to Valdosta, Ga.
When the family was taken to the bus station on Christmas Day, Skipper said they pulled up, the station was closed and dark, but they found one of the same Gadsden police officers who’d helped the day before waiting there in his patrol car. She said she commented on the coincidence and he told her, “no, I was waiting here for you.”
Getting the hitchhikers to family took a few steps. Gill had relatives in Folkston, and if they could make their way to Waycross, Ga., Gill’s brother would be able to pick them up.
Skipper said she called upon Rob Anderson, who moved here from Valdosta. He knew there was a non-profit called “Lamp of Valdosta” where many of the city’s churches joined forces to help those in crisis. Anderson’s friend ran the shelter, so he called him to ask if anyone could help get the family from Valdosta to Waycross, about an hour away.
Anderson said his friend had some questions and learned the family would be coming into Valdosta on Thursday – the day after Christmas. He said he could drive them to Waycross himself, Anderson said.
And he did. When they got to Waycross, Anderson said, the brother was there to pick them up, just as he was supposed to be.
Skipper said she talked to the woman as the family traveled with Anderson’s friend on their way to Waycross. “They took the bus to Birmingham and had four-hour layover before getting on the bus to Atlanta,” Skipper said. “They barely made the bus in Atlanta,” that would take them to Valdosta. “It was a 16 hour trip,” she said, “but there were excited with that. They’d never been on a bus before.”
Skipper said the youngest son told her is mother said “the whole town had helped them,” and that’s how is seemed to Skipper. “Everyone who heard about it wanted to help,” she said.
“That little nine-year-old said ‘This world is really a great place,’” Skipper said. “It was like something out of a Christmas movie.”
“This is the best Christmas I’ve had,” Skipper said, “and I think everyone involved felt the same way.
“I think it’s really a tribute to Gadsden, the way people came together to help,” Skipper said.