Press Talk: We’re all trying to help a little

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



(AP) The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.

He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn’t be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

“She told him, ‘No, I’m paying for it,’” recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. “He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn’t, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears.”

At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help. Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn’t afford, especially toys and children’s clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

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Some stories just get to you, right? This one got to me.

Look, all newspapers cover all kinds of stories all year long. And you’ll see plenty of good-news stories in The Columbian, both in print and on our website.

But we also know that most readers will remember the bad news. It’s human nature, I guess. So even though we celebrate the good that goes on in our community, we’ll remember things like tragic murders and the outrageous way elected officials take care of their own but not the taxpayers.

So when I see a story about the angels who step up to help those poor families who want so badly to do something nice for their children — well, I get emotional.

It should be noted, the above story is not really about Kmart. The writer of the story said Kmart likely ended up being the focus of donors because they have a long-standing layaway program.

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I am also happy to note there are many, many, many community members who are so very generous in areas like this. Most never get any publicity.

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This year, three reporters decided to get the ball rolling in the newsroom to do a little something extra for a family during the Christmas season.

The Salvation Army was contacted and a family was “adopted.”

Andrea Damewood, Stephanie Rice and Marissa Harshman did all the heavy lifting.

You might recognize these names because they’re also the three reporters who do the heavy lifting on our most popular blog. Our local politics blog.

They gathered donations from the newsroom. When it was over, we had more than $500.

And please appreciate that news types don’t make a ton of money. We haven’t had pay raises, for example, in some time. It’s difficult out there for so many businesses, and we’re not an exception.

Still, we also know how incredibly lucky we are to have what we have. And it’s so much more than so many out there.

So why do folks do it? Marissa explained it this way:

“How could we not help people who just have basic needs?”

The family we’re helping is headed by a single mom of four. She endured abuse for 13 years. She and her kids were homeless at one point but now live in a housing program, hopeful but still struggling to move forward.

Let’s all pray that this family, and so many others like them, find peace and success.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or

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