Grocery spree winner donates prize to hungry


November 08, 1999|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN SAFEWAY opened in Westminster in July, hundreds of hopeful people filled out entry forms for free flowers and television sets, but what captured most of the attention was the grand prize: $100 for groceries each week, for one year.

I joined the dreamers by filling out a few (million) forms, and posted a note on my bulletin board: "Safeway winner/Great Feature Idea." In August I started stopping by the manager's office to express my interest in writing a story about the winner.

Weeks passed. Months passed. Store manager Bryan Caudle, and assistant store managers Joe Sturm and Steve Merello, took turns answering my inquiries.

About a month ago, they confirmed there was a winner (not me, drats), and assured me that Safeway wanted to have a big to-do -- pictures, invitations to local media. The winner needed to fill out some paperwork, and I couldn't have the information just yet.

So I waited, and I listened to the quiet murmurs in the store: "Did you hear there was a winner, but he doesn't want anyone to know who he is?" "The winner has a big business in town, and he decided to give the money away." "The winner's sister shops here." "I think the money went to the local Lions club."

So went many of the rumors I chased until last week. On Tuesday, the rumors finally gave way to the discovery that the grand-prize winner had, in fact, decided to give his bounty to charity.

After giving his sister approximately $1,000 worth of store vouchers, the winner turned over the remaining $4,000 to Carroll County Food Sunday -- and asked to remain anonymous.

"I volunteer once a week there, and the last thing I could do was keep money for something that I can afford when there are people in this county who don't have refrigeration and who live under Route 140," he said during a phone interview.

"What I can't understand is why we will give the world millions of dollars, but when it comes to feeding our own, in our own country, we consider them all deadbeats," he said.

"We are glad that the money went to such a good person and that someone locally could reap the benefits of his generosity," said Safeway's Sturm.

The folks at Carroll County Food Sunday are thrilled, too.

"He has been so generous; this donation was not unexpected," said David Hagerty, a member of Carroll County Food Sunday's board of directors, of the donor. "He has volunteered for a year, he contributes monthly and he continues to give and give."

How did this successful businessman become so passionate about an organization that distributes food to needy Carroll County residents?

In 1992, he went through a tough time. There was a death in the family and his marriage dissolved, he said.

When Christmas rolled around he decided to pick up his spirits by working in a soup kitchen, and he thought Carroll Food Sunday was one.

"I discovered that it was not a soup kitchen, but the people said that they could sure use my help," he said. "They quickly crushed my vision that helping the poor meant wearing an apron and using a big ladle."

Whether it's scooping candy corn from bulk barrels into individual bags and twisting the ties, hauling heavy loads, or driving a truck to pick up donations, he said he finds ways to "breathe a little life into others less fortunate and make them feel like human beings."

"I've had a good year. My business is turning a profit, and as bad as everything was in '92, it's as good now," he said. "The pendulum has swung the other way and I wanted to share [God's] blessings."

18th birthday surprise

By mid-October, Virginia Rebert's Christmas cards had been addressed and stamped. The Westminster resident is definitely organized, but that's not the only thing that prompted her to start so far ahead of the Christmas rush.

Yesterday, she and Helen and Bill Brown of Littlestown, Pa., left for a long visit with their children and grandchildren in Africa. Jerry and Lillie Rebert and their children, Jill, Heather, and Leah, have been in Kenya since last August and have been looking forward to a long visit from their parents/grandparents. Helen and Bill are Lillie's parents.

Lillie works in the student health center at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for 500 missionary children, and Jerry has served as the school's maintenance supervisor, as well as an assistant for other missionaries.

The couple's oldest daughter, Jill, turns 18 on Thursday, and her grandmother didn't want to miss the celebration. In fact, she is taking a lot of the celebration with her.

Jill is getting a new video camera to document her life in Africa. Virginia is also lugging an assortment of "must haves" requested by other family members: a water bed repair kit, a battery for the camera, blank tapes, John Wayne movies, a picture of their border collie, Petey, and -- my personal favorite -- Chinese food from Westminster's Forbidden City restaurant for Lillie.

"Before they left, the sweet corn crop had been a bust, but this year is a bumper year, so I'm drying some to take," said Virginia. "I'm also taking dried apples so they can have another little something from home."

The Reberts have received a great deal of support from the community and their church, Westminster Baptist Church, but donations are always welcome and needed. Donations can be sent to: Africa Inland Mission, P.O. Box 178, Pearl River, N.Y. 10965. (Please specify that the donation is for the Jerry Rebert family).

Lisa Breslin's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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