ICYMI: CA: A chance encounter over doughnuts changes two Memphis lives forever
All Chauncy Black wanted was a dozen glazed doughnuts to quiet his insistent hunger pangs.
Instead, through a combination of good fortune and simple human decency, Chauncy’s life has been changed forever.
Thanks to a chance encounter in a grocery aisle, Chauncy and his grandmother now have enough money to transform their lives, assuming they can fend off relatives attempting to get a piece of their good fortune.
This story begins around 9:30 p.m. on June 9, when Matt White, a 30-year-old singer/songwriter and Memphis native, made his usual trip to the Poplar Plaza Kroger to pick up a week’s worth of groceries.
But as he neared the produce aisle, a kid who was barely 15 years old approached him. The common impulse might have been to flinch, to look away, to move on.
But White didn’t. He listened as Chauncy offered to help him carry his groceries to the car in exchange for White buying him that box of doughnuts.
“I looked at him and realized what he was asking me. I realized there was more to the story,” White said, unaware that Chauncy had already approached seven other people and had been turned down each time.
So White began talking to him, and realized that Chauncy was sincere. He wanted to work for his food, didn’t want to just ask for a handout.
So White took Chauncy around the store and bought about $70 worth of groceries, the same amount he would normally have spent on himself. He gave him a ride back to the South Memphis home that Chauncy shared with Barbara Black. (Black, 61, is technically his grandmother, but she raised him since birth and Chauncy calls her “Mom.”)
And White was devastated by what he saw.
“As I walked in and took the food back to the kitchen, I looked at the bedrooms and there were just blankets on the floor. No mattresses. It was really sad. There was no food in the ‘fridge. They had one window (air-conditioning) unit going to cool the whole house, but it didn’t work. It was sweltering.”
When White got back home that night, he spilled out his story in a long Facebook post. His friends shared the post, and they began talking about what they could do to help Chauncy and Barbara, who is disabled due to diabetes.
Someone hit on the idea of a GoFundMe website, part of the new wave of so-called “crowdfunding” sites, so White started one. Their goal was simple: raise $250 to buy Chauncy a lawn mower so he could work to support his grandmother.
Progress was slow at first, but the original Facebook post and link to the fundraising site spread. The money started coming in, and within a couple of days, Chauncy had more than enough to buy a lawn mower.
Then Ellen DeGeneres heard about Chauncy’s plight, and his story really exploded.
“They posted Chauncy’s story on Ellen’s page for 25 million people to see,” White said, “and the whole world exploded.”
By Sunday, more than $255,000 had been raised from nearly 11,000 donors. Enough money to buy a house for Chauncey and his grandmother.
At this point, in a world where such simple human kindness can seem a rare and precious thing, it’s easy to be skeptical about this story.
White knows that. That’s one reason he’s been diligent about updating the fundraising page with videos, to show how the money is being spent, to foster transparency.
To make sure the money is protected and will last, White has meetings planned with a tax attorney, a financial planner and an expert in setting up trusts, he said. White also wants everyone to know that he’s getting nothing from this, beyond reimbursement for some of his expenses.
But Chauncy’s sudden fame is causing other problems, too. Family members, including the mother who abandoned Chauncy at birth, have suddenly reappeared to try and get some of the money.
“Harassing me and harassing me and harassing me,” Barbara Black said Sunday. “I’m just so tired.”
That’s one reason why White moved Chauncy and Barbara into a local hotel, with plans to change locations again, just to get away from the money-grubbers.
“Very, very angry; very jealous,” White said. “We’ve had phone calls from them constantly saying, ‘Where y’all at? Send me some money.'”
But despite those problems, Chauncy’s life has been forever changed, just because he decided to approach the right person at Kroger that night.
Now, assuming no hiccups, Chauncy and his grandmother will have a new house, complete with furniture and bedding donated by local businesses.
Chauncy will get that new lawn mower, and he will continue to mow lawns to help support Barbara. The remaining money donated by all those strangers will be invested to grow, hopefully taking care of grandmother and son for many years.