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What motivates Kansans to give?

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, at 9:45 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

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This story was reported with the help of the Public Insight Network, a partnership between journalists and readers. To join or to suggest a story idea, go to Kansas.com/public insight and click the Get Started button.

This is the giving season, but rarely a day goes by all year without somebody around here committing an act of charity.

Givers include those who have much to give, and those who have little.

Kay Thacker grew up in a family of seven with little means. But her mother taught them that no matter how bad things were for them, others had it worse.

Thacker is out of work, and raising a couple of grandsons. One of the kids’ schools wants to help her by giving them Christmas presents. But Thacker told them no, she’d take care of them. Meanwhile, she is planning to buy Christmas presents for another family in need.

Thacker said she scans an Internet site looking for people to help. She gives toys and clothes and whatever else she can give.

“There’s so much need out there, and if I can figure out a way, I’m going to help,” she said. “Every time I am able to give is a memorable time.”

The Eagle used the Public Insight Network to ask people why they give. The responses reveal the heart of south-central Kansas.

There are the small, spontaneous acts of generosity — the man who slips a few dollars to somebody who has none — and there are the prolonged actions of relief workers who leave the comfort of their homes in Wichita to venture to storm-ravaged areas around the country and provide emergency aid to people who have lost everything,

There is a woman who handed a baseball to a smiling kid in baseball-crazed Cuba, another who paid for counseling for a troubled colleague, and a man who buys food and clothes for the homeless.

They give for the simple pleasure of giving, or they give out of a primal need because they remember their own hard times when somebody else gave to them.

“There are so many good people here,” said Isabel Link of Wichita.

She is one of them. At age 60, Link volunteers for emergency disaster relief efforts with the Red Cross. She has spent days away from her home in northwest Wichita and from her own family to help storm victims in Alabama, Nebraska, Texas, Missouri and Illinois.

Here’s why: Link grew up on Guam. Every year, a hurricane would blow to pieces the wood houses where she and her large family lived. They’d go off to a school for protection days before a storm hit, knowing that when they returned, their homes would be gone.

Link remembers an American Red Cross worker who helped her family after a big storm in 1960. She decided right then to become a volunteer someday. She has been one since she was 16.

“In order to understand what other people are feeling and what they are going through, you must have gone through one,” she said. “I’ve seen first-timers in disaster areas that just couldn’t take the devastation. I‘ve seen them cry, and I’ve seen them want to go home. It really takes compassion.

“What I get out of it is, I know I’m helping someone. I know my family is safe back home when I’m out there, and they know this is me, this is my life, this has always been me.”

Dennis Miller, an engineer at Cessna, lost his home in Greensburg to the full blast of the EF-5 tornado that leveled the town in 2007. He wasn’t prepared for an emergency, didn’t even have a pair of shoes on when he went to the shelter.

Emergency response teams helped him and he later became involved with Red Cross. Today Miller volunteers for disaster relief for the organization and coordinates community disaster education for schools and businesses.

Last year a woman who had moved here from Arkansas and had no family lost everything in the April tornado that hit Oaklawn. A few months later, she lost everything again when fire destroyed her apartment.

Miller was there to help.

“I think I was able to provide some services and get her back on her feet at least for a few days,” he said. “That was pretty rewarding, because that was a person who was sincerely down on her luck.”

‘A wonderful feeling’

People around here also give when they least expect to. Jack Niblack was standing in line at a Wichita fast-food restaurant waiting to pay for some ice cream. A woman ahead of him was told that she didn’t enough to pay for the food she was trying to buy. Niblack picked up the $23 she needed.

“She was so grateful,” he said. “She stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Son, thank you so much.’ It broke my heart.”

Now, whenever he goes into that restaurant, he hopes he sees her again. He feels that he should have done more for her that day. He could have slipped her a $20 bill, he said.

Niblack, 65, drives a school bus part time. He sees kids every day who don’t have what they need. The thought of a kid waking up without any presents on Christmas morning tears him apart. Kids believe what they are told, he said, and they are told that Santa Claus gives presents only to kids who are good. Santa has a list, after all, and he checks it twice.

Niblack adopts a family through the Salvation Army and gathers what it needs, and adds a gift certificate for food. He also helps with Angel Tree requests.

“Sometimes it’s just one little thing, one little inconsequential thing, but I want them to have it,” Niblack said. “To me, that’s Santa Claus — giving gifts to people that you don’t know for no other reason than you want to and they need them.”

Jim Franklin would have liked that when he was a kid . Franklin, who has his own insurance business in Wichita, grew up in a sharecropping family in Mississippi. They had no luxuries such as Christmas presents.

“I always wished somebody would send us something unexpectedly,” he said.

Franklin gives to the Lord’s Diner and his church, and sometimes when a person comes in and he knows they don’t have very much, he slips them some cash. One year he delivered Thanksgiving dinners in Wichita and he remembered how one old man’s eyes lit up.

“That was a wonderful feeling. And he could not quit thanking me,” Franklin said. “What we count as so little, other people count as a big thing.”

Franklin has discovered a new business dynamic.

“The more I share, the more I seem to have,” he said.

He once stopped giving for a while and his income went down, he said.

But making money is hardly his motivation.

“It’s just a good feeling,” Franklin said.

‘How fortunate I am’

Ann Menzies remembers the feeling she had after she was in an auto accident in the mid-1980s and had no health insurance. She and her then-husband were out of work for months recovering from their injuries.

“It can be pretty scary,” she said. “I’m used to everything being stable, and being in control. All of a sudden, I had no control and there was no stability.”

They had family to help them get back on their feet. Somebody would send a check; somebody else would stop by with a sack of food.

Menzies, an IT analyst for Cargill, said she isn’t wealthy, doesn’t drive a fancy car or live in a fancy house. But she can eat a breakfast in the morning and she has a bed to sleep in at night, and many people don’t have those things, she said.

So she gives to a couple of nonprofit organizations in town, takes food to her church for the Open Door pantry and drops money into Salvation Army kettles. She does whatever she can to help.

“As I’ve become older and wiser, I’ve realized how fortunate I am,” she said.

Cliff Jayne said that when he gives his time or money to help, he feels rested, even though the 62-year-old tooling machinist works six days a week, usually for 10 hours a day. Giving is spiritual to him.

He once built a wheelchair ramp for an elderly woman who was a friend of his sister.

“ ‘I feel like a queen with my new ramp,’ ” she told him as she went up and down the ramp for the first time.

“She felt loved and cared for and important,” Jayne said. “She called me her angel. To pay me back I told her to put in a good word for me when she gets to heaven. She is there now.”

Jayne does other things. Once a week he takes $30 worth of doughnuts to a halfway house for people getting out of prison, he said.

Penitence is part of it. When Jayne was 10, he stole a bicycle from a girl’s front porch and went on a joyride with friends. He wanted to return the bike, but his friends wouldn’t let him and they tore it up in an alley, he said.

He’s given about 20 bicycles as gifts over the years since then.

“I cannot rest on what I have done,” he said. “It is important to do something on a daily basis.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feel-good out of it. And you feel close to God.”

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com

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