By Melissa Cronin, Islander Contributor
SOUTH HERO - A homeless man stood at Shelburne Road and Interstate 189 in South Burlington, braced against the brisk winter wind, a cardboard sign in his desperate grip: “Anything will do.”
South Hero resident Brittany Hammond stopped, rolled down the window, and handed the man Goldfish crackers, the must-have snack parents try to keep in the car when running errands with 5-year-old children.
On that cold February day, the 5-year-old was Maddie Hammond. As with most children her age who are coming to terms with the world around them, Maddie had questions, starting with “What just happened?” Then, the classic pre-school-age question: “Why?”
“Some people don’t have food,” her mom explained.
“I wish we could give everyone food, Maddie said.
Her mom suggested if she wanted to help people get food, she should think of something she likes to do to make that happen. That’s when they both came up with an idea: selling cards. Maddie, a budding artist, enjoys drawing. She started gathering her portfolio – flowers, rainbows, bumble bees, sailboats, hot-air balloons – and glued her work onto left-over cards her teachers gave her at school.
When asked how the money she is raising will be used to help feed people who are hungry, Maddie sat up straight in her flower-patterned blue dress, her legs swinging with little-girl excitement from the bench in the yard, and said, “The Vermont Food Bank.”
Brittany Hammond, a former Humanities teacher at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville, helped Maddie conceptualize her efforts by counting in goldfish units: “For every card you make, that’s another bag of goldfish,” her mom explained to her cuddling daughter.
The cards have been selling at “Maddie’s Cards for a Cause,” a website set up by Maddie’s mother. They can also be purchased at Keeler’s Bay Variety and Wally’s Place, both on U.S. 2 in South Hero. So far Maddie says she has sold 120 cards, and has raised nearly $400.
As Maddie sat snacking on pretzel sticks, she was asked what it feels like for her to be hungry. “My belly hurts,” she said, rubbing her hand over stomach.
Maddie says she thinks of her dad when she speaks of other creative ways to help others.
“Daddy’s doing a great job building our house,” she beamed, pointing behind her at the porch turned living room. “I thought about Daddy building a place so people can be warm in the winter. We can buy little blankets and beds.”
When asked more about her home, specifically what the word “home” means to her, if safe is how she feels, Maddie lifted her head from her mom’s chest and nodded, “Yeah, I feel safe with my whole family. I wish other people had homes and food.”
As her mom says about her daughter, “Maddie is a good soul.”
It’s no wonder her favorite homemade card is one with a pink heart. But she does not keep her heart to herself. In fact, when a shopper attempted to purchase some cards and mentioned she did not want to take one Maddie’s most favorites, Maddie picked it out of the stack and handed it to the shopper.
“No,” she said, “I want you to have it.”
That’s Maddie: “‘The lover,’” an endearment her mom says her teachers use to describe her daughter.
Maddie says she sometimes makes cards “to bring to school, to give them to the people I love.” Maddie.
A giver. The tender spirit who feeds Vermont’s hungry community through art – one card at a time.
To learn more about Maddie’s Cards for a Cause go to: https://maddiescardsforcause.wixsite.com/maddiescardsforcause