A Medford retiree is proving one act of generosity can generate another, and another — year-round.
Alene Smalley has been providing food to homeless teens living at the Hearts With a Mission Youth Shelter on Edwards Street every month since it opened two years ago. It wasn't long before her neighbors at Quail Ridge Retirement Community started chipping in, too.
"When they were first trying to open, they had their fundraiser at the armory and I was there at the flea market and they were selling T-shirts so I bought one," Smalley said.
"After I got home, I got to thinking I had some extra food and thought they could use it. I think what they're doing is so incredibly fantastic and I wanted to help out, even if it was just a little bit."
Though she lives on a fixed income, Smalley reasoned she had enough to eat. So she and her granddaughter began filling one bag of groceries each month and sharing it with the teens at the shelter.
Happy that she could make a difference, even on a fixed income, she soon found herself clipping coupons and picking up items on sale that she knew the teens would enjoy. In no time flat, her "just one bag" began to grow to a small pile of supplies.
Her neighbors grew curious about Smalley, whom they would see maneuvering her walker to load her little white car with groceries and supplies.
"After a few months, my neighbors were a little suspicious and they started to ask what I was doing," she said.
"Pretty soon, most of them started leaving bags at my door. I left one day and came back to five bags outside my door. Turns out three different neighbors had stopped by."
Each month, sometimes once and sometimes twice, Smalley delivered her collected goods to the shelter, often being met by teens rushing outside to help her unload.
"The kids know my car so they come out and help when they see me coming," she said.
For Christmas last year and again this year, the Quail Ridge seniors decided to bypass an annual gift exchange and buy gifts for the teens instead.
Hearts With a Mission volunteer coordinator Tara Brown said Smalley and her neighbors have made a big impact for the teens who make their home at the shelter.
"She comes every single month and she is amazing. She has been a real constant for the kids," Brown said.
"She comes with a whole truckload packed into her little car and I know she gets her whole neighborhood to collect and sort stuff for her to bring. It's pretty amazing."
Betty Starr, Smalley's neighbor and friend, said the effort has taken over the neighborhood and given the seniors a positive focus.
As she answered her phone on Friday, Starr said Smalley was at the Rogue Valley Mall using funds collected by neighbors to purchase gifts for the Hearts With a Mission teens.
"It's such an important thing that they do for these kids," Starr said of Hearts With a Mission. "And, you know, what's the point of a bunch of us elderly people buying stuff for each other we don't even want or need?"
Starr, who said several of the seniors planned to bake and knit for the teens, said it was heartbreaking to realize how few services are available for teens compared with facilities for adults and families.
"These kids need somebody to care about them and Hearts With a Mission does a great job," she said.
"We just try to help a little bit. It's been a real joy for us seniors to be able to be part of helping in these kids' lives."
For more information on how to help Hearts With a Mission, visit www.heartswithamission.org.