Region 8 residents struggle with hunger during holidays

TUCKERMAN, AR (KAIT) – The holiday season can be a time of excess for many families, showering each other with gifts and enjoying a feast on Christmas. A growing number of people, however, struggle to put food on the table and presents under the tree.

The Every Child is Ours food pantry in Tuckerman passed out boxes of food to families Monday, and volunteers gave out extra for the holidays. More than 300 families from Tuckerman, Swifton, Grubbs and Campbell use the service.

Each family comes in with a story, but Bill Gates and his wife Connie have a lot more to be thankful for than just a box of food.

"I'm thankful that I have another chance at life and for the donor," Gates said.

The holiday season brings a lot of hope for Gates, as he and his family realize their future looks a lot different.

"You think about that you have a new life and what's ahead, what looks ahead and that you can help others," he said.

Gates was diagnosed with a rare liver disease in 2009. He retired from his job soon after, began receiving food from the local food pantry and collected cans on the side of the road to afford trips to the doctor. "That would help us to have money for gas," Gates said.

His family watched, as his health declined.

"You can see it where he's weak. He can't do anything," his niece Mitzi Milligan said. "It's just very hard to go through that. Bill was losing it."

Doctors added the lifelong Tuckerman resident to the liver transplant list. His name stayed there for two years until one morning in May when he and his wife were awoken to a call at 2:30 a.m.

"We want to thank the family because they've given me a life, a chance to live again," Gates said.

Mounting medical expenses have drained his savings and retirement fund, but residents held a benefit to raise money to cover some of the costs.

"When he came out of surgery, it was so funny," Milligan said. "He told them, he said, you know, I don't know what, but God has a plan for me because I'm still here."

Gates has grown stronger since his liver transplant, so has his deep-rooted faith and his conviction to help others.

"You do it because you see people that are less fortunate than you are," Gates said. "It makes you feel good to help someone else out."

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