Widower sells kindling by roadside to pay for deceased wife’s medical bills

"He said his wife Helen lost her battle to cancer a few weeks ago and he is still selling to cover pay for her doctor bills. My heart breaks every time I pass him. He waves at every single car that passes."
July 10, 2018 2:24 pm Last Updated: July 11, 2018 10:04 am

Visiting the doctor for something as simple as a sore throat can be costly, even if you have health insurance. So, imagine the price of a cancer diagnosis.

For several years Kenneth Smith’s wife, Helen, battled cancer. The couple, who had been married for more than 30 years, were on a fixed income, and it only went so far. As a way of earning a little extra money, Kenneth sold bundles of kindling to help defray the cost of his wife’s medical bills.

Posted by Jessica Pittman on Sunday, November 20, 2016

During Helen’s battle with cancer, Kenneth, a Gulport, Mississippi, resident, would sit along the side of the road with his wife of 30 years.

“She was right here with me,” he told WLOX in Nov. 2016. “She would sit and wave at all the people that would come by.”

Life without Helen

Unfortunately, in Oct. 2016 Helen passed away.

“She’s a proud woman because she’s looking down on me,” he said.

Now, that Helen was gone, his income was cut in half, which made it that much harder to make ends meet. On top of his usual expenses, he still had Helen’s remaining medical bills to pay off.

Public support

Despite not having his wife by his side he continued to sell kindling.

One day, Jessica Pittman of Gulfport, Mississippi, shared a post about Kenneth on Facebook. She urged her friends to visit him and purchase a bag of kindling for $5.

“Last year he was there selling as well but he had his sweet little wife Helen with him,” Pittman wrote. “He was selling to help pay for his wife’s doctor visits and bills. This year he is alone.

“He said his wife Helen lost her battle to cancer a few weeks ago and he is still selling to cover pay for her doctor bills. My heart breaks every time I pass him. He waves at every single car that passes.”

Posted by Jessica Pittman on Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pittman shared a number of photos of Kenneth at his roadside stand, which garnered a lot of attention from people both near and far.

Shortly after Pittman’s post went viral, Kenneth’s son Leslie Smith set up a GoFundMe account for his father, so people who didn’t live in the vicinity and were interested in donating money to the widower could still contribute to the cause.

Another photo of Mr. Smith added by a neighbor James Edward Bates. Great picture!

Posted by Jessica Pittman on Sunday, November 20, 2016

After he went viral Kenneth was overwhelmed by customers wanting to purchase kindling.

“I appreciate it, but I didn’t come out here to be a panhandler,” he told the Sun Herald.

More than one person willingly paid $100 for a bundle.

In addition to the money he earned selling wood on the side of the road, several thousand people donated more than $130,000 online. It’s unclear exactly the extent of Kenneth’s bills, but his community’s and complete strangers’ generosity helped put a dent in his debt.

“It makes me think that we live in a good country and this is part of it,” Kenneth told WLOX.