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Geraldine man’s legacy ‘contagious’

A Geraldine pharmacy is at the center of an uplifting story involving one man’s legacy to help members of the community afford prescription medications. The moving account has gained nationwide attention since his death on New Year’s day, touching the hearts of many and inspiring others to pay it forward.

Nearly a decade ago, Geraldine resident Hody Childress asked his pharmacist if some patients had trouble filling their prescriptions due to financial reasons. After Geraldine Drugs owner Brooke Walker informed him that, yes, that was a fairly common occurrence, Mr. Childress handed her some money over the counter. He instructed her to quietly use it on patients who could not afford their medication.

The Hody Childress Fund

At least every month, but typically more often, Walker said Hody would slide her $100 in cash to add to the growing fund, telling her to use it at her discretion. His only stipulation? That his donation be kept a secret. Hody didn’t want to know who the money was used for and he wished to remain anonymous, should anyone ask from whom the donations came. And ask they did.

“People would ask questions and try to find out who would do that,” Walker said. “But I would just tell them he wants to remain anonymous and that he said he wants me to tell everyone it’s a blessing from God.”

Walker said she never knew why Hody decided to start a fund at her pharmacy; she may never know.

“I think that was the most shocking part about it to me,” she said. “No one had ever asked me that question before. That was so unique. Normally, when someone gives money, someone has told them about a need and they fill it. But he 100 percent felt led to do this on his own. I just think he felt the Holy Spirit led him that way. He talked a lot about his faith and how he just felt like he needed to bless somebody from that pharmacy.”

Walker estimates that Hody contributed to the fund for seven or eight years; and she kept quiet about it the entire time, only mentioning the reserved money when she saw a need arise.

“No one knew the fund existed,” she said. “So when I had someone come in and ask how much their medicine was and then say, ‘I’m going to have to wait,’ that’s kind of how I would find these people. It wasn’t like it was known there was a fund there. Once I realized they were not going to get their medicine, if it was something I knew they needed, then I would say, ‘You know what, we have a fund here and that’s going to be taken care of for you.’”

The secret is out

It wasn’t until Hody passed away on the first of the year that his secret came out. During the last month of his life, he sent his daughter to the pharmacy in his stead and asked her to continue giving money as long as he was alive. During that time, Walker wasn’t sure whether his daughter knew the extent of her father’s charitable act, or if she thought he was just asking her to pay his bill.

“I had promised I would never tell,” Walker said. “I even wondered if his wife knew, because I had never had a conversation with a single person about it. When his health was declining over the last few weeks, I was already kind of thinking, ‘Am I going to break my promise?’ Because I knew I had to tell the family. I couldn’t let this not be known. So, I  was already kind of rationalizing to myself that it would be okay to tell after he passed.”

On the day of Hody’s funeral, however, Walker was out of the country, enjoying the first vacation she and her husband had taken together without kids in twelve years of marriage.

While there, she received a Facebook message from Hody’s niece, that simply said, “I need you to tell me about the money at the pharmacy.”

Once everything was out in the open, Walker hunkered down on a beach in the Dominican
Republic and typed out a lengthy, heartfelt account of Hody’s kindness and generosity over the years. The family then asked Walker if she would be okay with them posting her story on social media to honor their loved one’s legacy.

“If I had known it was going to go crazy, I might have proofread it,” Walker said with a laugh. “That was the original information I gave the family, though, and I had to type it because my international calling wasn’t working and I didn’t want them to have to wait on me to get home to call them.”

Spreading the good news

Once the family was brought up to speed, they let Walker know they wanted to keep Hody’s fund going. As the Facebook post gained more traction throughout Geraldine, community members also came forward with donations for the Hody Childress fund at the pharmacy.

The story of Hody’s legacy then began to spread beyond the small town, and even outside of the state. Soon, Walker was fielding calls from every corner of the nation.

“This has been so incredible,” she said. “I had several people tell me, ‘If the fund ever gets to zero, call me.’ Then as the word began to travel, I have had calls from all over the U.S. asking for our address, wanting to support this. Just this week, I was thinking, ‘This is great, but I wonder how many people are actually going to follow through.’

“It was so cool because we went to the mailbox a day or two later and there were 11 letters, totaling $1,450.00 in donations. One person alone sent $500. These were from Los Angeles, Milwaukee, all over; people who have never been here.”

Paying it forward

The “biggest blessing” Walker has received so far came from a man, originally from Miami but currently residing in Georgia, who was eager to donate to Hody’s fund. He asked if she had had a lot of people reaching out to do the same.

“When I told him we do have a good balance, thanks to his family and some members of the community coming in, he said, ‘Well I just want you to know, and I want you to tell the family, too, that this is contagious. I was going to send you money, but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’m going to my local pharmacy to start my own Hody Childress fund here.’”

Walker agreed without hesitation.

“I hope everybody does that,” she said. “People need help outside of Geraldine and what a
blessing it would be for people all over the United States to go to the pharmacy and have help with their medication. I think it’s amazing that, while Hody has impacted so many in Geraldine, he’s planted seeds in hearts all over the nation to do the same thing.”

A lasting legacy

Though he’s been gone for nearly a month, Hody’s story is far from over. The heartwarming
news of his generosity and kindness has already been picked up by national media outlets such as The Washington Post, “Good Morning, America” and BBC News. Steve Hartman from CBS News even traveled to Geraldine recently to report on the story for his heartwarming “Kindness 101 with Steve Hartman” series.

Taken from the original message Walker wrote to Hody’s family, before it was shared again and again across the country, the pharmacist had this to say about what an honor she considered it to play such a pivotal role in his lasting legacy:

“I am forever grateful to Hody for entrusting me with that task. Hody was not just a good man. He was a great man. I wish I had told him how much he meant to me…how much his actions and faith affected my life…and how blessed I was to know him.”

The easiest way to donate to the Hody Childress fund is to send all mail directly to the
P.O. Box 158
Geraldine, AL 35974.

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