On Wednesday morning, Ernest Kimble walked toward the front doors of Lake Pointe Elementary School in Bee Cave and found a sign hanging on the door.
“Welcome Mr. Kimble” said the sign hanging in the window.
As he walked through the hallways, paper hearts taped to the wall held more greetings. “This way, Mr. Kimble.” “Mr. Kimble, you are kind.” “Mr. Kimble, thanks for giving us joy.”
The hearts led to MaryAnne Malicki’s fifth grade classroom, where more than 20 students were waiting to greet Kimble, 53, one of the Central Texans featured in last year’s Season for Caring program.
Kimble’s story of living in a roach-infested hotel and walking to work at Burger King for more than 30 years moved many readers during the holiday season. Thanks to donors, Kimble now lives in an apartment much closer to work and has a new wardrobe of clothes and shoes. For the first time in decades, he has his own kitchen and is learning how to cook. Readers donated enough money to cover a year's worth of rent.
He also has a new friend in Kristina Delgado, a health specialist with Community Action Inc. of Central Texas. Delgado, who grew up in San Marcos, remembered watching Kimble walking to work as a kid, and when she saw him again a few years ago, she reached out to see what she could do to help.
Eventually, the nonprofit she works for adopted him and nominated him for Season for Caring, the Statesman’s annual giving campaign that this year raised $1,033,589 to help Central Texas families. The nonprofit organizations that nominated the 12 featured families use the Season for Caring funds to help the featured families first and then help hundreds of other families throughout the year with basic needs such as rent, groceries, utilities, medical bills and transportation. Since 1999, the program has given $12.7 million to local charities.
The 2018 campaign officially ended last month, but Malicki’s students weren’t finished raising money for Kimble just yet. This week, they invited him to their classroom to make the donation in person.
They cheered for him as he walked into the classroom, and after he took a seat, the students sat on the floor at his feet while Malicki explained what the class had been up to.
“You don’t know us, but we’ve been sending you blessings ever since we read about you, and we have put together a special basket for you,” Malicki says. “We wanted to give you things to make your house a home.” Soup, tea, coffee, slippers, cookies, a cozy blanket and even toothpaste.
This is the fourth year that Malicki has invited her students to pick a Season for Caring family to support. Eden Knuff, 11, says that Malicki let the class read and watch videos about each of the featured families, and then they narrowed it down to a few and voted on which one to raise money and collection donations for this year. Instead of complaining if they don’t get something that they want or if something doesn’t go their way, Knuff says that Kimble’s hardworking nature has already inspired them to change their attitudes.
All in all, the students raised $821.72 to give to Kimble. They raked neighbors’ yards, sold hot cocoa, walked dogs and did extra chores. One student raised more than $60 at a bake sale.
“We’re always talking about going the extra mile,” Malicki says. “We saw him going the extra mile, so we wanted to go the extra mile for him.”
The students also learned the money is only one way to support a neighbor in need. Julia Taves, 11, baked Brazilian cheese bread to give Kimble a taste of her family’s Brazilian heritage. Ten-year-old Shaden Woligroski moved to Central Texas from Manitoba, Canada, late last year, and he baked bannock bread, one of his favorite Canadian foods, to share with Kimble. Lark Sidle, 11, drew a portrait of Kimble, which he gave to him on Wednesday.
Student Alexis Magee, 10, went to H-E-B late the night before the celebration to buy balloons, and when the grocery store clerk heard the story about who the balloons were for, she let her take them for free. “Our random acts of kindness grew because of you,” Malicki says.
Kimble, who had isolated himself away from other people after growing up in a difficult home in the Fifth Ward of Houston, is still adjusting to his new home and the idea that strangers want to do kind things for him.
“I’m not used to getting this kind of attention,” he says, “but it’s nice.”