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Gail Wilcoxon: Turning tragedy into triumph

Gail Wilcoxon, the founder of People Helping People, is nominated for Pay It Forward.(Image: WTVC)

Turning tragedy into triumph.

That's what a woman from Benton did 10 years ago after her daughter became seriously ill with Encephalitis.

She made a promise that if her daughter recovered, she would devote her life to helping others.

In this week's Pay It Forward, Jessica Harthorn takes us for a tour of her non-profit, giving people assistance and comfort in their time of need.

People Helping People is a non-profit located in Benton. The building is full of free food, furniture and for many it offers a fresh start.

We surprised Gail Wilcoxon, the woman who started it all.

Whether you're in need of a hot meal, a new outfit, even flowers for a loved one's funeral, you'll find it all at People Helping People.

Last year, the non-profit served more than 14,000. Sherry Sparks says that's where she met the organization's founder, Gail Wilcoxon.

"She's my hero, she's the most amazing woman I've ever met," said Sparks.

Sherry wanted to surprise Gail in the middle of her workday, and we caught her carrying crates in the hallway.

"Gail Wilcoxon!" surprised Sherry.

"I'm going to kill you, Hello!" said Gail, visibly shocked by our Newschannel 9 crew.

"On behalf of Newschannel 9 and the McMahan Law Firm, I want to Pay It Forward 1, 2, 3, 4, 5," continued Sherry.

"Thank you," cried Gail.

"I love you. You are one of the most amazing people I know. Stop it! I've already cried too," said Sherry as she hugged Gail.

Moments later, Gail took us for a tour, showing us the community kitchen first where the smell of meatloaf was in the air.

"They can eat for any donation and we feed around 900 a month," said Gail.

Then we walked through the thrift store.

"Hello!" said one of the shoppers to our photographer.

Gail says last year, more than 14 thousand people received free clothing and household items.

All they need to do is grab a bag.

"Picture frames, books, toys...We help everybody, but the working poor is who we are set up to help," said Gail.

In the back of the building we found volunteers sorting through mounds of donations.

And around the corner is the day care center.

That's where Gail's daughter, Rebecca works, giving low-income families an affordable, safe place to drop off their kids.

"I love what I do, it's not a job because I love teaching," said Rebecca.

Gail says she'll never forget how hard it was when Rebecca had Encephalitis. She had to quit her job to take care of her, and her husband unexpectedly lost his job too.

"And when we got down to nothing, I said Lord, make her OK and I'll do whatever you want, and that's how we ended up here," said Gail.

It's a journey she says, that now brings comfort to countless others.

People Helping People also has a crisis center and summer feeding programs.

The non-profit is funded by donations, sponsors and grants.


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