Family trip to Walmart sparks holiday tradition


Photo provided by Gary Stewart

Gary Stewart and his daughter Madyson make meals for the less fortunate for Thanksgiving.

By Ally Gallagher

When Gary Stewart took his daughter Madyson, now 9, to Walmart in November 2015, he had no idea their lives, and their celebration of the holiday season, were about to change. 

Madyson had saved up $63 to buy herself a toy, and could not wait to find something special with her hard-earned money. But, her plan soon changed when she saw a man and a woman in the parking lot without their coats on. Thinking about how cold it was, Madyson asked her dad why they did not have coats.

“I told her that, ‘I don’t know, but maybe they didn’t have any money,” said Gary.

That is when Madyson immediately knew how she wanted to spend her money — on coats and gloves for the couple in the parking lot. With her dad’s help, Madyson also bought McDonald’s gift cards so the man and the woman could have a hot meal.

By the time Madyson and her dad returned to the parking lot, the man and the woman were gone. But Madyson was not willing to give up yet.

“Madyson refused to go home until we found them,” Gary said. “So, we drove around for almost 30 minutes until we found them.”

That day, Madyson and Gary began their tradition of giving holiday meals to those who might otherwise go without. Each Thanksgiving and Christmas, they make at least three holiday meals large enough to feed a family.

This year marks Madyson and Gary’s fifth year of making and giving meals away for the holidays. Each year, the Stewarts go grocery shopping for turkeys, gravy, stuffing, green beans, corn, sweet potato casserole, and more.

Every year Gary Stewart and his daughter Madyson, load up their kitchen counter in Oxford with groceries they turn into holiday meals for needy families in the area.
Every year Gary Stewart and his daughter Madyson, load up their kitchen counter in Oxford with groceries they turn into holiday meals for needy families in the area. Photo provided by Gary Stewart

But, rather than working solo this holiday season, Gary extended an invitation via Facebook for others to help. Andrew Amarantos, owner of Skippers and SDS Pizza in Oxford, responded to Gary’s challenge. Gary said they are blessed to say that Skippers and SDS Pizza donated three turkeys to the cause.

This year especially, Gary emphasized the importance to provide not just food, but hope.

“It’s not just a meal you will be giving, it’s not just a plate of food to the people who need it,” Gary said in his Facebook post on Oxford Talk. “It’s love and kindness from a neighbor or stranger in a dark time in their life. It’s them knowing that in their darkest hour, someone cares.”

To find families who may need the meals, Gary posts in various Facebook groups, asking those in need to reach out.

Even though a lot of the cooking and preparation is left to Gary, he said Madyson never misses the opportunity to get involved.

“Madyson always goes with me to deliver the meals or supplies because she enjoys helping and seeing the smiles on (people’s) faces,” Gary said. “She started this, and I have just continued to do it to try to help people who are down and just need a hand.”

Gary said he wants people to know that something as simple as delivering a holiday meal can truly make all the difference.

By the end of the holiday season, the Stewarts will have provided over 30 meals to families in need. And it all started with a trip to buy a toy.