An Incredible North Idaho Christmas Story
By Heather Koeppel
The Sheriff’s Department is where we heard about a program called VAST, (Victim Advocate Services Team) for local families in need of assistance and our tiny town church brought it to our attention. It was Christmas, and they were hosting an adopt-a-family style program to provide for local families in need. Our family at this point had moved away from the Sandpoint area due to our own hard luck and had moved to Post Falls for the next year before leaving Idaho for what we thought would be forever. However, we often still made the trek back to our little country church in Laclede, Idaho at the time. That was 25 years ago.
I was intrigued when I heard about it, so I took it upon myself to call the Sheriff’s Department to get more details. A nice lady deputy explained that people or churches could choose a family off their list to provide needs for Christmas. Currently there were 8 families on that list, 26 people I counted, all of them single mothers with children. My own church had offered up $500 to help and was giving me the go ahead to do with it as I saw fit. She told me over the phone that I could choose whichever family I wanted to help.
My brows furrowed as I looked over the list.
“What happens to the other families if I only choose one?”
The deputy’s voice faded a bit as she was pondering her answer.
“Well…..seeing that it’s so close to Christmas, they just won’t receive anything.”
“You mean to say there are no others to adopt these families?” I asked.
“That’s correct,” she told me.
“Well, then who is the neediest here?” I asked. “How do I know which family to choose?”
Without giving names, she then proceeded to tell me some of their situations. It was heart wrenching to say the least, but when she told me that one of the mothers was living on a mountain and using a frozen blanket for a front door, I was floored.
Questioning further, I asked, “What do all these women and children need the most off this list, then?”
“Everything,” was her response. “But if you want to keep it simple, most everyone else just gives money, we take care of the rest.”
The Christmas list did not contain toys or other luxuries, absolutely no “wants” whatsoever. These people needed everything from underwear, to socks, shirts, pants, coats, hats, mittens, snow boots…. all the basics we barely give a second thought to in our own closets.
With my mind reeling, I told her I would get back with her. I called the church, but $500 was all they could do.
Now this is a pivotal part of the story. Just a year prior to this scene, this same church had given me my first Bible. I had started to read it alone for the first time up on our own mountain before we moved, and through a most incredible heart and life changing process, the Lord had forgiven me a multitude of sins and healed my body of pain He had inflicted upon me to get my attention. It was then I committed my life to Him and began to teach our children from His Good Book. I had started my journey with Him in the book of Matthew.
With this list of names in my hand, I got down on my knees in our Post Falls home. Being so young in Christ, I was still awkward in prayer, and I fumbled for my words.
I said tearfully and with disturbed soul, “My Lord, how do I choose? How do I turn any of them away?”
What happened next left me stunned. I heard an audible voice clearly say, “Get up, and go shopping.”
I was compelled to obey. With $500 in hand, I got into our minivan and drove off to the nearest thrift stores.
I scoured the first store looking for everything I could get my hands on. So many children, so many sizes needed! It felt impossible, but something drove me on. By the time I finished with that store, the cart was literally overflowing with clothes, boots, and goods falling on the floor as I headed to the register.
Now I feel compelled to address something here. I don’t claim to be any kind of great mathematician, far from it, but being a family of five at the time, (and one on the way), and lots of shopping experience, the Lord had gifted me with a calculator in my head. Whenever I filled a cart to capacity, I could guess within pennies what it was going to cost before ringing it up. It would leave my husband scratching his head, who really is the mathematician in the family!
I knew exactly what that cart was going to cost, and I thought to myself, “This is it; I’m almost done. I can’t provide everything.”
When the cashier told me the total, I knew she was mistaken. I asked her to repeat it. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it was exactly HALF the number in my head. I spun around on my heel looking for SALE signs. There were none.
“Are you sure? Are you having a sale?” I asked.
Chomping her gum, she looked at me like I was an idiot.
I pulled out the cash and paid the bill. I was numb walking to the van.
“I never get this wrong…weird,” I thought to myself.
Next store, same results…. exactly half the number in my head, to the penny! The van was filling fast.
Exhausting all thrift store resources, I found myself at the Dollar Store. To the register I took an overflowing cart of laundry soap, towels, you name it, all with the same results, exactly half. And still there was money in my purse.
Next up, Walmart. I rarely ask for anything from anyone, it’s not my comfort zone, but something I could not see marched me right up to management and I told them about my quest. On the spot they gifted me with a $100 gift card. I took it and bought socks and underwear first. Then I started to buy the fun stuff; chocolate covered cherries, slipper socks, popcorn tins and puzzles for Moms. Next came toys appropriate for the boys and girls on my list. My heart was to the point of bursting and I was having so much fun!
This time when I got to the register, I knew my shopping excursion was at its conclusion. I paid for everything, with Walmart gift card and some cash. I was putting the receipt in my wallet as I was walking away, and I looked down and spotted some of the cash from the church. I was compelled to pull it out and count it. Surely, everyone around me could hear the thud of my heart as I made my discovery. I had nearly $200 left!
In shock I thought, “It’s not MY money! I can’t keep this, but it simply won’t go away!”
I was utterly exhausted from shopping all day, but I could not seem to spend all the money in my purse.
What came to my mind next was gift cards. I bought every family gift cards to Walmart & The Dollar Store to spend as needed. It was beyond comprehension what was happening.
Next, I brought everything into our basement in Post Falls, which filled it to capacity. Gifts were everywhere, and my kids and I wrapped them all….with paper! We had huge moving boxes filled with presents of all sizes, shapes, and colors.
Now hold on to your hats folks, the story gets even more amazing. We were scheduled to get this all down to our old church, over an hour away, that very next Sunday. The Sheriff’s Department was due to pick it up from there the next day, on a Monday.
I told my husband, “There is no way in the world we’re going to get all this stuff in our minivan, with 3 kids, up to Laclede from Post falls without making more than one trip.”
I was sure it was going to cost us an entire Sunday plus gas to achieve this.
With an unusual air of confidence and a smile, he said, “Well, let’s just start packing it in and see what happens.”
He came for load after load, and each trip I said, “That’s it, you aren’t going to fit anymore!” He would just continue to smile & proceed to fill the van. He was starting to irritate me.
Finally he said, “Get the kids!”
Looking into the van, I said, “No way!”
“Get in kids!” he exclaimed.
So there they were…. three kids with presents and boxes piled to the ceiling on their laps, in our minivan. We were up front, piled with stuff.
Then it happened. The van would not start. Of course. I just knew something was going to go amiss! But one phone call to an old timer in the church who knew everything about cars got it started in minutes. Ok, we were on our way.
We unloaded upon arrival and the gifts filled a huge section of fellowship hall. The members of the church were shocked at the magnitude of gifts. Questions surfaced:
“$500 bought all this?”
“And HOW on earth did you get it here in that little already-cramped van?”
I couldn’t explain it, but we all marveled.
The cherry on top of the whole scene was played out the very next day. I got a call in the afternoon from our pastor’s wife.
“Heather, are you sitting down?” she asked.
“Yes,” I responded hesitantly, and slightly on guard for some sort of bad news.
“The Sheriff’s Department was here to pick up the gifts.”
“Ok…” I said quietly, worrying that I must have done something to upset the apple cart.
“The Sheriff’s Deputy arrived in a large passenger van that she had removed the seats from. It took her exactly TWO TRIPS in that van, filled to capacity, to take all the gifts!”
Well, needless to say, after I came back around from a swoon that had me nearly on the floor, we both began praising the Lord.
She said, “It’s just like the loaves and the fishes!” Matthew 15:32-39
Later I got a call from the deputy. She said they were all shocked in her department at what had been done for these families. “Nobody really does this,” she told me. “They just give money.” She also told me how very happy these mothers were, and that many had cried along with their children when they received their gifts. I was choked up myself, but I managed to share Christ with the Deputy. I told her what the Lord had done. I believe she told me that they would never forget. She didn’t need to tell me that, I already knew. No one ever forgets when the Lord provides in such a miraculous way.
Our family has now returned to north Idaho. While we wait to see what His ultimate plan is for us, through another act of obedience, we have started a store that serves the community in a most incredible way. That store is Mountain Traders.