The holidays are rich with giving traditions. Whether it’s filling food banks, donating to toy drives, buying gifts for an adopted “angel” or dropping spare change in those ubiquitous red kettles, there are countless opportunities to give back this time of year.
About 34% of all charitable giving in the U.S. is done in the last three months of the year, according to the Blackbaud Index, which tracks more than $37 billion in charitable giving from some 8,000 organizations. Of those donations, roughly 18% are given in December alone.
But Ben Brockmeyer and Thad Madsen of River Valley MFA Agri Services in Odessa, Mo., didn’t wait for the holidays to give back. In early October, one of their customers, Curtis Lewis, learned he had an aggressive form of brain cancer. The young farmer and his wife, Angela, have four children and face a tough battle ahead. They’ve visited M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and Curtis is currently receiving treatment in Kansas City.
When Ben and Thad heard about the devastating diagnosis, they knew they needed to step up to support Curtis and his family. They decided to help the MFA way— rallying farmers around the cause with donations of grain. They traveled farm to farm, picking up corn or soybeans from anyone who wanted to help, with plans to cash in those bushels and give the proceeds to the Lewises. The response was overwhelming. Some farmers even donated whole semi-trailerloads of grain.
In a spirit of true selfless giving, Ben and Thad weren’t looking for accolades for their actions. They insisted they didn’t want publicity, afraid it would seem like MFA was tooting its own horn for doing a good deed. They just wanted to help one of their own in a time of unthinkable crisis.
But the story was too touching not to tell. When “U.S. Farm Report’s” Tyne Morgan, a native of nearby Lexington, Mo., learned about the fundraiser, she decided—on her own—to provide live social media coverage of the event, dubbed “Combining for Curtis.” She also broadcast a heartwarming story about the efforts during the weekend of Oct. 19-20.
While MFA may not have sought the spotlight, the attention greatly multiplied the reach of potential donors. By the end of November, 9,200 bushels of corn and 1,200 bushels of beans had been collected, totaling around $42,000 in grain donations. MFA also received monetary gifts for Curtis from Kansas, Illinois, New Mexico and Iowa. A family in Texas even offered the Lewises an apartment next to M.D. Anderson hospital free of charge. Contributions are still being accepted online at gofundme.com/f/j8ckb3-lewis-family-support.
Ben was quick to point out that it wasn’t him, Thad or MFA that made “Combining for Curtis” a success. He said took the whole community and everybody working together.
One of the universal truths in agriculture seems to be that farmers are quick to help other farmers. After all, they make up less than 2% of the population, so it makes sense that they stick together, especially in times of need. We saw it during this year’s flooding, as neighbors helped neighbors move equipment, sandbag property and clean up afterward. We saw it during last year’s drought, when growers allowed livestock producers to graze their animals on corn stubble. We see it every year during planting and harvesting. If a neighbor gets sick or passes away in the midst of the growing season, other farmers will inevitably rush in to help get crops in the ground or out of the field.
However, there doesn’t have to be a death, dire diagnosis or natural disaster for those in the agricultural industry to lend a helping hand or pay it forward. In the cooperative world, concern for community is a guiding principle that members regularly practice. Specifically at MFA, one of our core values is “team spirit,” which includes showing concern and support for each other. Employees such as Ben and Thad and their Odessa MFA coworkers are shining examples of that value in action.
As the holidays ignite the spirit of giving, remember that the smallest things we do for others can make a big difference. It doesn’t have to be a huge monetary donation. It only needs to be meaningful. Volunteer your time. Help out a neighbor who’s struggling. Contribute to a local charity. Visit with the elderly. Comfort families who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Pray for peace and healing for Curtis Lewis and all of those who are battling illnesses. When you make the effort to help others without expecting anything in return, that’s when the real blessings flow.
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