Rob Adams is a successful real estate agent in Utah. But when he was 11, he and his family experienced homelessness and lived in the back of a pickup truck.
Adams’s parents had only enough money for him and his siblings to stay in a motel room one night a week, he said, so for the better part of 1982, they spent the other six nights in the covered bed of their pickup truck in Porter, Texas, just outside Houston.
’'My big meal of the day was school lunch, and many nights, there was no dinner,’' recalled Adams, now 49.
But just before Christmas that year, a local family from their church offered up their house for two weeks while they headed out of town for the holidays. They left presents under the tree for Adams’s family and filled the fridge with food, including a turkey and homemade pies.
’'I cried when I opened that fridge,’' said Adams, who now lives in Riverton, south of Salt Lake City, with a family of his own.
’'Unless you’ve been hungry, you can’t imagine how I felt,’' he said. ’'I told myself, ‘Someday, if I have money, I’m going to do this for somebody else.’ ’'
Adams made good on that promise and started Thanksgiving’s Heroes, a nonprofit that this year gave away 2,500 boxes — each filled with a Thanksgiving feast weighing 53 pounds — to homes in the Salt Lake Valley.
Thanksgiving’s Heroes began in 2015 when Adams raised enough funds to give away turkeys and all the trimmings to 755 families in need. The initiative has grown each year since and, this year, even expanded outside Utah to Tampa, Dallas, and Cleveland.
Adams’s wife and four daughters helped him deliver the food boxes in Utah last weekend, with assistance from about 800 volunteers.
’'It’s important to make that personal connection,’' he said. ’'There are some people who might feel embarrassed to stand in a line for a box, or maybe they don’t have transportation to get one. With COVID this year, we knocked on the door and left everything on the porch, but we know that people are smiling when they unpack their boxes.’'
Upended wedding plans provide holiday meals
When the pandemic upended their wedding plans, Emily Bugg and Billy Lewis tied the knot at Chicago’s City Hall last month instead.
But there was still one piece of unfinished business: What to do about their $5,000 nonrefundable catering deposit? The newlyweds decided to turn it into 200 Thanksgiving dinners for people with severe mental illness.
’'This just seemed like a good way to make the best of a bad situation,’' said Bugg, 33, an outreach worker at Thresholds, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychiatric conditions.
In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, dozens of Thresholds clients received a boxed dinner of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and other fixings from Big Delicious Planet, a high-end Chicago-based caterer.
Bugg and Lewis, 34, got engaged in July 2019 and began planning their wedding. They had booked a hip Chicago event space, a fun DJ, and a photographer. Bugg purchased her gown, a slip crepe dress with spaghetti straps, and their guest list topped 150 people.
But as the pandemic stretched on, they went to Plan B, first scaling down their guest list to 50. Then, Plan C: changing dates. And finally Plan D: canceling altogether and heading to City Hall on Oct. 1.
’'We had come to a place where we had some big decisions to make,’' said Lewis, who works for an advertising technology company. ’'We decided to just go ahead and get on with our lives.’'
As for the nonrefundable deposits and purchases, the newlyweds chalked them up to the pandemic. The bridal gown — still in its garment bag and hanging in the closet — was a lost cause. So was the check that went to the DJ. The venue, Salvage One, a 60,000-square-foot warehouse, agreed to put the couple’s deposit toward a future event for the Epilepsy Foundation, a cause Bugg has a connection to. The photographer offered to document the nuptials at City Hall.
But there was still the thorny issue of the $5,000 catering deposit.
Bugg hatched a plan: Have the wedding banquet morph into Thanksgiving for clients at Thresholds, where she has worked for nine years.
She brought the proposal to Heidi Moorman Coudal, owner of Big Delicious Planet, who instantly embraced the idea. So did Mark Ishaug, CEO of Thresholds, which serves about 8,000 clients with mental health problems in Chicago.
The holidays are already tough on people with mental illnesses and substance use problems, and the pandemic and associated isolation have only exacerbated both, he said.
He said he’s grateful for the donated boxed Thanksgiving meals, especially because Thresholds’ usual communal dinners are canceled because of COVID-19.
Piggy bank fund-raiser nets more than $52,000
SALT LAKE CITY — Andy Larsen is a sports writer, but with so many games scratched during the pandemic he has spent a lot of time digging into coronavirus data and its sobering implications.
Then on Monday, while he was sorting his spare change — some from a childhood piggy bank shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants — it struck him: Other people in Utah could use the money more than he could.
His composed a tweet to his nearly 27,000 followers, hoping to quickly find someone who could use the $165.84.
Within a minute, someone offered to essentially double his donation with a deposit into his Venmo account. Then someone else pitched in, and another. It kept snowballing as Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox retweeted it, calling the effort “very cool.”
“I figured I would help a couple families with Thanksgiving, or a family with three kids buy Christmas presents,” said the 29-year-old Larsen, who covers the NBA’s Utah Jazz for the Salt Lake Tribune. “I was shocked ... within five, 10 minutes we got $1,000.’'
By Wednesday, he had collected more than $52,000.
Among the first to get on board was Jeff Jones, a 54-year-old partner at a CPA firm in South Jordan.
“I was thinking, ‘We’re not having a big Thanksgiving dinner this year, I can use some of the money we would have spent to hopefully help some other people,’” he said.
With the pandemic keeping people from getting together in a big way for the holiday, the online effort became a chance to conjure a sense of community, a feeling of being part of something larger.