In years past, Christmas was just another day for Charles “Moses” Graves of Powell. With the exception of trying to make Christmas special for his kids, it was just a day for Graves to get through.
With unpaid bills piling up and no money to spend on the kids, this Christmas looked to be no better than most, and worse than some.
Graves moved to Powell in 2015 to be with his girlfriend, her son Isaac, 11, and their daughter, Makenna, 7. He got a job in construction work two years ago, but lost it when things slowed down.
He was without a job for a month and a half before he found employment at McDonald’s as a maintenance and custodial worker.
Finding work at McDonald’s “was a tremendous blessing to me,” he said.
But by November, Graves and his girlfriend were separated, and he was caring and providing for both children by himself. He was three months behind on his electric bill and received notice that his power would be shut off soon. He was also months behind on his rent and his gas bill.
“It started to overwhelm me; it started to scare me,” he said.
Meanwhile, as he swept and mopped the restaurant floor each morning, Graves noticed a group of men who came in to enjoy a cup of coffee and each other’s company.
He slowly started feeling comfortable around the men, who call themselves the “Morning Guys,” and told them about himself and his difficult situation.
“This gentleman walked up to me and asked for my name ... and lo and behold,” five of the men went down to the city’s billing office later that day and paid off his electric bill.
One of the men, who asked not to be identified, said they wanted to help someone less fortunate than themselves.
“We just knew how he fell on hard times, and we heard about it,” the benefactor said. “We all chipped in. We’ve been blessed, so we just decided to help him a little bit. It’s just part of the Christmas spirit and good will.”
The man said Graves is “a real hard worker” with an
impressive work ethic.
“He tries hard, and we like to help someone who helps themselves,” the man said.
A woman Graves met at McDonald’s also knew of his plight, and she suggested he go down to the Powell Police Department and apply for help from the Powell Council of Community Services. The council helped with part of his overdue rent, and the woman paid off the rest of the rent herself.
Graves said he couldn’t believe how kind the people were, nor could he adequately express his gratitude.
“Can you imagine being underneath an elevator, and it starts coming down, and you start feeling like there’s no hope, and then — just before it squashes you — it stops,” Graves said. “I was burdened. I was stressed. I was scared. They have no idea about me, or who I am.”
But they helped, just the same.
Thanks to their generosity, he finally had enough money to catch up the rest of his bills, but that left little for him to do anything to make Christmas special for the kids.
But the community wasn’t through with him yet.
“Lo and behold, I get a call from my kids’ counselor at Parkside school, wondering if I was willing to let my kids participate in this program, ‘Shop With a Cop,’” Graves recalled.
He happily agreed, and two law enforcement officers — Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Toohey and Powell Police Officer Matt Brilakis — accompanied the children to the Cody Walmart for a miniature shopping spree last week. There, the youth were allowed to spend $130 each, mostly on Christmas presents for their family, though they were permitted to spend on themselves as well.
Isaac said he was impressed by his officer’s ability to figure out what was left of the $130 budget in his head, and he liked how all the officers joked around with each other at the station. Makenna said she had fun with her police partner.
Afterward, they went to the Cody Law Enforcement Center with their officers, where they enjoyed pizza together and wrapped the presents they’d purchased. Those presents now sit under the family’s formerly barren Christmas tree.
“That program is awesome,” Graves said. “It shows the kids that cops are good, and we need them.” Graves has spent time in prison, but he said he came out of those experiences a better man, and without being bitter.
Today, he’s trying to be a responsible citizen and take care of his children.
“I’ve got to make sure my kids are fed, I got to make sure they got a roof over their head, and have a way to get to school,” he said.
Graves said the community’s generosity has been an uplifting experience that he will never forget. He noted that he did not ask any of his benefactors for help; they gave it voluntarily.
“It’s been a learning experience for my kids, about not being selfish at all,” Graves said.
“People in Powell have definitely stepped up,” he added. “They have made my belief in Christ, made my belief in Christmas, made my belief in people. ... These people did not have to do what they did, but they did, and I can’t thank them enough. I told them, if I can help them out in any way whatsoever, they should call me.”
Graves’ anonymous benefactor summed it up: “This community comes together to help people.”