Once turned away from a food pantry, Nichole Adkins never forgot how it felt to go hungry. So when her pastor asked if she could use the couponing skills that she’d learned through her hard times to help feed 50 families one Thanksgiving, she not only happily met that goal but has gone on to provide millions of pounds of food to thousands of people in need
Nichole Adkins listened in stunned disbelief to the Dayton, Ohio, pantry case worker. “I’m sorry, you don’t qualify,” the woman told her.
Nichole was a young mom of three, going through a divorce at the time. Her paycheck barely covered rent and utilities. There was no money left for food.
“You have a practically new minivan,” the case worker noted. “We have to consider it an asset.”
“But it’s in default,” protested Nichole. “It is going to be repossessed any day.”
The case worker wouldn’t relent, so Nichole went home and maxed out her credit card to buy food for the kids and enough for her to eat a small meal once every third day. Still, she refused to give up hope.
We will survive this, Nichole promised herself.
She got a job selling and repairing vacuums. To stretch her small salary, she clipped and traded discount coupons. “That’ll be $6.97,” the register clerk shook her head in amazement as she packed eight bags bulging with meats, produce and nonperishables.
Slowly, Nichole pulled herself back up, eventually opening her own vacuum shop. Even so, she continued her money-saving practices and even began teaching others about extreme couponing, hosting weekly meetings around her kitchen table.
One November Sunday in 2015, after church services, Nichole’s pastor pulled her aside.
“We have 50 families counting on us for Thanksgiving dinner. But the pantry is literally bare,” the minister explained. “I’ve heard about your couponing and was wondering if you could help out?”
Remembering how it felt to go hungry, Nichole didn’t hesitate.
“Certainly, I’ll help,” she replied.
Paying it forward
Nichole rounded up her coupon-cutting group and, using their skills, spent just $60 on 50 Thanksgiving dinners with all the trimmings and gave each recipient two boxes of nonperishables to boot!
Inspired, they hosted Christmas dinner, with so much extra food that they set up tables by her shop to give away the rest and even got a pizza for the kids. Nichole’s heart nearly broke when she heard a little girl whisper to her mom that she should have some pizza too—neither of them had eaten in days.
Nichole told her group, “We need to keep this up year-round.”
The group collected more coupons, and soon, “With God’s Grace,” as Nichole came to name her mission, was setting up weekly in front of churches and other locations. An early regular was Samantha, who had left her job to care for her sick mother. “You are always welcome here,” Nichole assured her, and after three years of patronage, one day, Samantha returned with a sizeable donation — part of her mom’s life insurance.
“You gave my mom and me precious time to spend together,” Samantha said.
Another time, Nichole flagged down a passing woman who looked desperate. “My boyfriend just dumped me. I have no job, no money for food or rent.”
“We can take care of the food as long as you need,” Nichole promised and offered her cellphone number, “In case you need to talk.”
Slowly, the woman, named Elizabeth, put her life back together and confessed to Nichole, “I never told you, the day you stopped me, I was going to kill myself.”
With God’s Grace still uses coupons to turn every donated dollar into many meals. An area hardware and real estate company donated a refrigerator truck, and every week it fills up with healthy meats, fruits and veggies and travels to 11 locations. They also now have a stand-alone store.
In 2020, With God’s Grace distributed 3.8 million pounds of food, and this year Nichole and over 1,500 volunteers are on track to give away even more.
“No one deserves to go hungry,” says Nichole. “And with a little help and God’s grace they don’t have to.”
3 ways to help fill bellies — and hearts! — this holiday season
- Give of your time. 78 percent of families say volunteering together helps them bond. Reap those benefits by going to OperationTurkey.com; click on “Get Involved,” then “Volunteer” to sign up to prepare meals for people in need on Thanksgiving Day.
- Host a food drive. Go to FeedingAmerica.org, click on “Take Action,” then “Start a fundraiser” to host a virtual food drive to provide meals for the hungry. Spread more love by typing “Thanksgiving” in the search bar to digitally sign a card for those picking up food.
- Go for a walk. Many cities across the U.S. host a Turkey Trot each Thanksgiving, with the proceeds benefitting local food banks that supply hot meals to the needy. Simply visit Active.com and type in “Turkey Trot” to find one in your area.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.