Walter W. Pickut
“All I wanted to do,” long-time Warren resident, Terry Pearson, told the Gazette last week, “was to start a fire.” That was 10 years ago.
But the fire in Terry’s fireplace needed some kindling, and the closest thing at hand was an old copy of the Jamestown Gazette. “That started a fire, all right,” Terry says today, “and so far, it’s added up to more than $170,000!”
What Terry found in that tinder stopped him cold. It was an editorial posted in April 2013 about Sharing—the best kind of sharing will benefit both the giver and the receiver. It was a simple notion, but it struck a chord for Terry and his wife, Betty Jo.
But before that Terry and his wife had already decided to tackle a problem troubling many communities like Warren, a problem the Gazette has reported on in Jamestown, as well. The problem of homeless and indigent families and children, in need of clothing, food, and shelter, especially in the winter months.
“So many people see a problem and they ask, ‘What if?…, but if they don’t take any action, nothing happens,” Terry said. As Warren community activists of long-standing, Terry and Betty Jo knew there were unhoused and underfed children and families in their city.
So, they had asked themselves, “What if we just put aside a small amount of money on a regular basis for the rest of the year—it was February then—and at the end of the year cashed it out?” They knew they would help someone, but had no idea how, who, or how much.
A $2 Seed
In no position for major philanthropy themselves, the Pearsons decided to put aside only $2 every week. But they increased their “What If” experiment by a factor of 3–$2 for Terry, $2 for Betty Jo, and $2 for their faithful dog Rachel, who did not object.
By their calculations, between the dates they chose in February and November, they reckoned they’d each have $84 to give somebody in time for the next winter’s weather to start turning cold. But with little more than a good idea, an $84 goal seemed ambitious enough to start with.
It Grew Itself
So the next goal was to recruit friends and neighbors into their scheme, and Terry was the obvious man for that job. Terry quickly learned that door-to-door fund raising was outside his comfort zone. That, however, was just right for Terry Pearson.
“All the fun in life lies outside your comfort zone,” he says with great enthusiasm. “You have to go there if you ever want to accomplish anything.”
“So some people said, ‘No’,” Terry recalls today, “and some people said ‘Yes’ and contributed.” Then, to hold that money, a small Mom & Pop retail store that sold antiques nearby soon volunteered to keep all the names, dates, and contribution amounts on a spreadsheet for them and to give receipts to donors. Terry and Betty Jo’s simple plan had suddenly developed a location, an accountability, and a dedicated team, though little more so far.
As Terry describes it today, however, he and Betty Jo did not really have a message. That’s when the Jamestown Gazette editorial about sharing, written by editor (WP), fell out of the pile of papers by Terry’s fireplace. “That was the real trigger,” Terry said. “Our message was going to be Sharing.”
Terry then took their new message on the road in service of more fundraising. One neighbor, however, chose not to donate much money, but offered something more instead. He established a dedicated email for the project. But Terry and Betty Jo’s new charity still needed a name.
Hooktown Holidays is Born
The Pearsons planned to give away whatever money they could raise just before the next holiday season and they wanted folks to know where it came from. The small Warren neighborhood where the Pearsons lived was called Hooktown—named for the Scottish immigrant family who had first settled there in the 1850s, so they dubbed their new mission “Hooktown Holidays.” Their project now had a name.
But Terry’s new friend was not done yet. He introduced Terry to an attorney who donated her own time to create a 501(c)(3) charity with a corporate bank account of its own and a board of directors representing the communities it would serve. All of this now made Hooktown Holidays a publicly recognized charity ready to do its work.
By this time, within the first year, Terry and Betty Jo’s answer to their What If experiment had already grown beyond anything they had imagined, and all through the help of good-hearted, generous volunteers. And they had gathered about $1,500 to give away.
That money, however, became a problem for Hooktown Holidays. “I’m just not qualified to look at you,” Terry explains, “and decide you’re poor. What does poor look like?”
The solution, fortunately, turned out to be just as obvious. The Pearsons gave the money to agencies in their community that were serving the same people they had set their own sights on at first. They relied on their mission statement for that and divided their proceeds among three well known, respected community charities.
More to Give Away
Hooktown Holidays, ever more aware of needs far beyond their new capacity, next created a Garage Sale outreach in year two during the usual neighborhood garage sale season. They brought in a bit under $1,000. But in later years, it grew rapidly into two garage sales a year, Spring and Fall, and brought in high multiples of their first year’s success.
The Pandemic lockdowns forced these popular community events into hiatus, but widespread popular demand brings them back. They have become a popular regional experience now recognized as a community’s concern for their weakest members. The garage sales sell out every time.
Contributions for the sales now fill a large warehouse space and Terry Pearson’s garage, sometimes including the contents of entire households. Contributors receive a charitable donation receipt in the amount determined by themselves.
With such large events attracting residents from a wide area, the garage sales bring a minor boon to local restaurants and other merchants. The next natural growth spurt then came to Hooktown Holidays in the form of on-site chicken barbecues featuring the best local recipes to keep the bargain shoppers fed and engaged in the garage sales even longer.
Because more and more of the garage sale goods came from household clearances, often in like-new condition, Hooktown Holidays is now developing an auction option.
Among Hooktown Holidays’ other outreaches has also been the establishment of food pantries in nearly every school in Warren County, and the extension of students’ eligibility for food through all 12 years of school.
One More Collaborator
Terry Pearson, when he was about midway through the development of Hooktown Holidays, connected with an acquaintance whose personal mission to help others in need matched Terry’s. He is Jamestown resident, Terry Lyle, reuniting elements of both Warren and Jamestown in the mission.
Lyle is a social media specialist who has developed Hooktown Holidays’ website (http://www.hooktownholidays.org/) to further expand their outreach. For both men—they collaborate nearly every day—Hooktown Holidays has become just about a full time occupation. Both are retired from long and productive careers, but both have also recently lost their spouses to illness. Their commitment is now a shared passion to the health and wellbeing of “the children of Warren County and their families in need.
Pearson and Lyle are now known throughout the area as “Terry 1” and “Terry 2” and always on call for good work. This year they plan to far outpace the $170,000 record they’ve tallied so far.
Setting an Example
The Jamestown Gazette is publicizing this remarkable project this week to encourage readers to also ask “What if…?” and to take action wherever possible. Take inspiration from others who have done so before.
The Jamestown Gazette is proud that a few well-chosen words published on a front page or in an editorial can help build communities and fulfill good journalism’s promise to its readers.