Back in April, for some strange reason, I became bound and determined to see to it that Rev. Bob Caldwell from the tiny town of Havana received the recognition he deserves. For over the last several years, each month, every month, Pastor Bob has spent the month gathering. Expired milk and meat from several grocery stores that he freezes immediately, as much chicken as he can beg away from Tyson, breads and bakery items from three counties, USDA commodities, and as much product as he could haul in his flat bed down to the little town of Havana. He is about to hit his 90th food giveaway that will feed over 300 families and 760 people with 11 tons of food.
I sent emails to ABC, CBS, NBC, NYTimes, USAToday, Ark Dem Gazette. I finally find an email address and nominate Bob to be ABC's Person of the Week. With national press, maybe, just maybe, Pastor Bob will catch the attention of someone who will make a donation and make things a little easier for him. Because on top of all the gathering, he has to gather funds, too. He generally spends about $700 a month. In a rural community with a population of 392, that’s hard to come by month after month after month.
(Let's take a moment and reflect on that, he distributes 22,000 pounds of food to 750 people with only $700, much begging and a lot of sweat equity.)
OK, I speak with local TV, too, hoping they'll cover the story and it might get picked up. That happened once with a story Jared Broyles produced. But with travel time down and back of 3 hours, its simply too costly a story to cover.
The City Wire has been a good friend to the food bank, but I leave Mike alone thinking a Yell County story is outside of his domain. I should have known Mike would come through as he had run a gallery photo of Pastor Bob back in November 2010. I was still hoping for something national.
Finally, I received a call from Rusty Garrett at the Times Record – someone worthy of Person of the Week as well, in my honest opinion. Rusty has always come forward to cover stories about ecology and goodwill. It’s his nature. He runs an awesome story on April 11, 2011. It’s a great piece and I’m satisfied.
last week the phone rings. It’s Christine Romo, a producer at ABC News. She wants to do a story about Pastor Bob. ABC News is working on a “Heroes of Hunger” storyline and they are thinking about doing one on Bob Caldwell. “Amazing!” Only three people from across the country will be selected for profiling -- one a night. I’m asked a series of questions and they seem intrigued. I hurriedly send an email with more background information and photos I have stored.
I get a call back from Christine. The story is going to 20/20 and it looks like Deborah Roberts will be assigned to it. “OMG” and say to myself as I twitch in my chair. I try to sound composed as I lear that it will be another day of waiting because the story is being transferred to another producer, Catherine Cole. It’s now Wednesday and Pastor Bob’s giveaway is this Saturday. I begin to feel like the boat is going to sail without the story.
I finally hear from Catherine. It’s been an eternity. Nope, only eight hours. Now, the correspondent is off the story and so is 20/20. But she is sending an associate producer to cover it and its now back to ABC World News. Hey wait, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. This story is going national on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer…and I not to tell anyone.
The associate producer is Jared Weiner. She says that I’m sure to like him. He’s being dispatched from New York and will arrive that night at 10PM – at XNA. We connect by phone and begin a three day friendship. Heavy storms are now battering the east coast. His flight is delayed. A few hours later, I learn his flight is cancelled.
He is re-routed and can get as far as Charlotte NC. He's now arriving at 10AM Friday morning. He will call me when he arrives in Charlotte. Luggage handlers break the mike on the camera and he was detained at the airport dealing with the hassle. I’m now up past one. He will have to get up around four to make a flight to Chicago, to make the flight to XNA.
Pastor Bob holds his “pre-boxing” event, where foods are grouped by category and canned goods are sorted into hundreds of boxes, on the Thursday morning before his big Saturday event. I had called him already on Wednesday and asked if he could delay until Friday morning if the story happens, and he kindly obliges me. Now, he has to delay until Friday afternoon for the sake of filming. He consents, but can't dealy past 1PM. We drop what we planned to film in Fort Smith early morning, which was a pick up from one of our great partners, Mrs. Baird’s. Instead, our delivery truck heads on out to Walmart Distribution for a pickup and will bring the product to Havana. Its looks like we’re on point.
Jared arrives on time at 11:30. He is a younger, small-framed man. A New Yorker, for sure. He has a nervous giggle, much like the character Beavis, although he would be sure to hate the reference. Before heading out, we must stop at Walmart, though, because production wants to use “flip cameras” as part of the feature and he needs to purchase one. It becomes clear that there are edicts sent down from on high and are never questioned.
I’m thrown out an immediate and unexpected task. The producers want a family, recently unemployed or low income that has children, preferably a 10 year old girl. “What?” They want to profile struggling families; they already have an inner city family with a 10 year old boy, so they want girls. “Hmmm” I start to make calls. I’m coming up empty. Who wants to profile their personal woes on national television?
We head out to Havana. An hour late. What a week this has been….and we still haven’t filmed a minute of the story.