In the Bible, there is a story about a woman named Tabitha who cared for the needy and sick within her community. When she passed away, people were deeply saddened because of the major impact she had made. A group of them found the apostle Peter in a neighboring town and asked him to come raise her from the dead. After she opened her eyes and stood up, the story of Tabitha was spread throughout the region.
A lot of us can probably think of a person who, like Tabitha, has served many in their community. However, it is rare when a kid is one of these people. For the past six years, now-14-year-old Timmy Hong has shown his community that he is truly a modern-day Tabitha.
The Heart of a Child
One day, when Timmy was 8 years old, he came home from school, and his mother, Debbie, could tell that something was troubling him.
“They were doing a charity drive at school, and he was upset because there were kids that didn’t have any homes or any coats or socks,” she recalls. “He would just worry about that. Then, we went up to Temple Square (in Salt Lake City), and there were people asking for money on the street. He just looked at me with tears in his eyes because there were these unfortunate people, and he wanted to help. That’s when we came up with the idea of selling hot chocolate to raise money for Tabitha’s Way Local Food Pantry.”
It was a little rough to get the ball rolling on Tiny Tim’s Hot Chocolate Stand the that first year. After a big family project of making posters and putting together the stand, the family set up the stand on the corner of their property. It was freezing cold that winter, which made it difficult to make a lot of money when most people just wanted to stay home.
However, the hard work of putting it together was not in vain. The Hongs’ neighbor’s son had passed away right before Christmas, and it was a tradition in their family to give $100 to each child to spend on someone else. So, the neighbor visited the stand and donated $100 in memory of his son to keep the tradition going even after his passing.
“Every year, it seems like we have a story like that where there’s somebody donating in honor of a passed loved one,” Debbie explains. “Another year, a family of 20 from a few towns away heard about the stand and wanted to come support it in memory of their brother.”
A Team Effort
The stand requires a lot of preparation and help from Timmy and his family in order to make it work, especially as it has gotten more and more popular each year. Debbie has a homemade recipe for the hot chocolate. On the day the stand opens, she is the one responsible for heating it up and transporting it.
“We have definitely spilled a lot in the car over the years,” she chuckles.
Timmy and his father are the first ones to set up the stand and get it ready to start selling. They set up the table, condiments, and signs in the parking lot of Daylight Donuts in Pleasant Grove, Utah, owned by Zeke and Lorraine Perry, who are neighbors of the Hong family. Timmy wanted to set up his stand in the parking lot because it was a busy part of town where lots of people would pass by. When he asked them if this would be okay, not only were they happy to allow him to do so but they were also happy to supply one free donut to everyone who purchased a cup of hot chocolate.
Heidi Eberly, an employee at Daylight Donuts, has seen the impact that this partnership has made.
“Zeke and Lorraine are staples in this community and are always so generous in helping and giving back where they can,” she says. “They are very fond of Timmy and his family and loved the idea of raising money for the food bank at a time of year when donations are needed the most. Timmy spearheads the annual event, and we just make sure to have enough donuts on hand. We are always happy to help Timmy in any way that we can. He and his family do a lot of good for their community.”
After they have all packed up at the end of the day, Timmy keeps the fundraiser open for a couple more weeks for people who want to donate even if they weren’t able to visit the stand, and he now receives donations from all over the country.
Debbie has created a Facebook page for the stand to help promote the project every year. And others post about the stand on social media, which makes for a widespread audience. Even though the first couple years were tough, there is now a line of cars in the parking lot filled with people eagerly waiting to donate and get their hot chocolate and donut.
Timmy also donates his own money to the cause. “There was a year when Timmy had been saving up for a big purchase, and he had about $200. We were getting ready to deliver the donations when he brought out all his money and put it in the pile,” Debbie recalls. “We told him that he didn’t need to give all he had, but he said that he already had so much that it felt good giving it to someone who needed it.”
In June of 2010, Wendy and Jody Osbourne founded Tabitha’s Way Local Food Bank in Spanish Fork, Utah, after Wendy felt that she needed to make a difference in her southern Utah County community. Six years later, in July of 2016, Michael Carter and Al Switzer founded a second location in American Fork, Utah.
“The Utah Food Bank said that their greatest need in Utah was in north Utah County,” Carter explains. “We were surprised by that because it’s a normal, middle-class area. The biggest reason for the need, however, was because there was no food bank in this area.”
Between both locations, they are helping between 7,500 and 8,000 people every month. Some of the biggest demographics of people they help are seniors and veterans.
“It’s amazing how many people get a check for $800 a month from the government, and they have to live on that. Even without a house payment, that is hard to do, but many of them are making a choice between food and rent,” Carter says.
Tabitha’s Way is unique in many ways when it comes to food pantries. Despite being a full-time pantry, they rely solely on volunteers. In Utah, there are more than 150 food pantries, but there are only around 14 that operate full time.
Because they’re open all the time, Tabitha’s Way also gets to know the people they are helping on a very personal level, and they try to help them in more ways than just providing food. Near the beginning of the school year, they provide backpacks for kids, and at the beginning of this school year, they were able to provide 2,400 backpacks with school supplies they donated to the school districts. Not only does this help the children, but it also helps the teachers who would have to pay for these supplies out of their own pockets. They also put together children’s birthday bags that have toys, games, tablecloths, cups, and other supplies.
When it comes to helping adults, Tabitha’s Way also does what they can to make their lives a little easier and stress-free. They will refer people to other agencies for job placement or homeless services. They will also put together meals for families during Thanksgiving and Christmas so that they can have a nice, home-cooked meal with their families on those holidays.
Last year, Timmy was able to raise $5,000, and he has raised about $17,000 to date.
“It’s interesting because we have companies that come in and donate like Timmy would, but probably every year he’s been one of our top 10 contributors,” Carter shares. “It’s just inspiring to see somebody who cares that much at an early age and that really loves other people that much—loves them enough to stand in the cold, sell hot chocolate, and to go out and talk to people and get them involved.”
Timmy not only donates the money he makes from the stand but he also spends time in the food pantry volunteering with his family. He helps sort food and gets it ready for people to pick it up, and Timmy and his family are able to actually meet and talk with the people they are helping with their stand. Timmy especially likes to help people load their groceries into their car.
A Modern-Day Tabitha
Even with all his hard work and big heart, Timmy continues to remain humble in everything that he does.
“I think it is just good to know that the stand helps a bunch of people,” he says. “It’s fun to make the posters and spend time with the family.”
However, the people around Timmy have a lot more to say when it comes to explaining the importance of what he is doing.
“I think it’s a good lesson for people that this little 8-year-old boy wanted to help, and it was really upsetting to him to see that people didn’t have the things that he had. Even an 8-year-old boy can make an impact on his community,” his mother, Debbie, says.
Carter is very appreciative of Timmy, having personally seen the impact that his hot chocolate stand has made on the community.
“He is such an amazing young man. He really is a modern-day Tabitha. In our vernacular, he’s doing exactly what she did. She dedicated her life to helping the community. He’s still going to school, and he’s dedicating himself as much as he can to helping his community.”
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