How gratitude changed his life

For Unite to Fight, V.J. Smith will share his story of Marty

V.J. Smith

V.J. Smith will share how gratitude changed his life during the fifth annual Unite to Fight fundraiser on Friday at Fort Frenzy, 3232 First Ave. S.

“It’s a talk I have given more than 2,500 times,” Smith, of Brookings, South Dakota, said. “I started giving this talk in 2001 and there is really two parts to it. The first part is the importance of expressing gratitude in our lives and how it’s life-changing. The second part is I talk about my relationship with an older man who ran a cash register at Walmart, named Marty.”

Smith is a professional speaker and best-selling author of “The Richest Man in Town,” which details Smith’s relationship with Marty.

“For the last 13 years I have been on the road, I have been sharing his story all over the country,” Smith said.

Unite to Fight is a combined effort between Noon Sertoma and NEW Co-op Foundation to support Backpack Buddies.

Backpack Buddies is a program that distributes food to children for weekend use when otherwise they would have little to eat.

Smith graduated from South Dakota State University in 1978 and spent the 1980s working for the Allied Signal Aerospace Company in Kansas City, Missouri.

He returned to SDSU in 1990 to work in the Athletic Department.

In 1996, Smith became executive director of the SDSU Alumni Association.

“After 10 years I quit because I got an overwhelming number of requests to go out and about and speak and I just couldn’t serve two masters,” Smith said. “I had to pick what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

He said the reason he’s able to tell the story over and over again is because of the type of guy Marty was.

“It centers on what happens to you as an individual, how your life is fulfilled by lifting up the life of someone else,” Smith said. “It’s been my privilege since 2001 to tell people about this guy.”

From the outside looking in, it didn’t appear Marty had much, Smith said.

“He had an eighth-grade education,” Smith said. “He lived in a doublewide trailer, drove a used car. But he was anything but a run-of-the-mill type person. He became a superstar in my hometown of Brookings.”

Dinner and a silent auction will also be part of the Unite to Fight fundraiser. All proceeds will be used to purchase food for Backpack Buddies.

According to data collected in March, the Fort Dodge Community School District had 3,977 students enrolled and about 58 percent of those children were eligible for free or reduced cost meals.

According to Terry Moehnke, program director for Backpack Buddies, elementary and middle school children show a higher rate of dependency on assistance for their school lunches.

About 63 percent are eligible for the free or reduced fee structure, he said.

“The primary reason we do this is because we know there are kids who may not have access to food on weekends,” Moehnke said. “A lot of kids have problems during the school year. Nutritionally, the school takes care of breakfast and lunch a lot of times. They may not have adequate food.”

About 24,000 bags containing an estimated 97,000 pounds of food are distributed each year, Moehnke said.

The identities of the students who participate in the Backpack program are kept confidential, he said.

“The families are asked to fill out questionnaires during the year to make sure the program is providing food that the children enjoy and to determine if any changes are suggested for the program,” Moehnke said.

Moehnke said multiple contributors have helped make the program a success.

“The prison has done a lot of work for us,” he said. “Leslie Wagers has been our liaison at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility since we started out there. The Lifer group, which does the packing for us. We wouldn’t be able to continue the program without their help. Raising funds five years ago, it was very difficult to raise funds. NEW Co-op Foundation and Land O’ Lakes stepping up with the financial help has been a life saver for us.”

Support has also come from the Walmart Foundation, Valero Energy Foundation, Study Club, Junior Women’s Club, First Covenant Church, First Presbyterian Church, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation, 100+ Women Who Care and individual donors.

Fifth annual Unite to Fight fundraiser for Backpack Buddies

Friday at Fort Frenzy, 3232 First Ave. S. at 5:30 p.m. Cost is $20.

What is Backpack Buddies?

Backpack Buddies is designed to supplement school breakfast and lunch programs by providing elementary-aged children with nutrient rich foods during weekends when many of these children may have little or nothing to eat.

The program provides students with a bag of shelf stable, kid-friendly food items every Friday during the school year (39 weeks). At the present time there is not a centralized location to distribute the bags during the summer months. The typical bag includes nutritious food items such as: soup, ravioli, fruit cups, small boxes of cereal, pop tarts, fruit snacks, pudding cups, juice boxes and a cookie. Toothbrushes and tooth paste have also been included. All of the food items are consumable without preparation and the children can easily provide food for themselves and in some cases, their younger siblings.