Marietta residents Michelle Shaffer and Barb Wilson put the giving in Thanksgiving.
Each November, the couple ventures out to local grocery stores and pays for shoppers’ bills in what Shaffer and Wilson call the “grocery give.” They usually spend up to $2,000, most of which comes from savings they’ve accumulated over the year.
“We just believe the secret to living is giving,” Wilson said. “We just want people to know that God loves them and bless whoever comes in line.”
Shaffer and Wilson, who got married in 2014, held this year’s tradition this week at Musser’s Market in both Columbia and Mountville, as well as Weis Markets in Columbia. It’s the first time they’ve hit three stores in one year.
“It’s unbelievably humbling,” said Shaffer, a paramedic with Northwest EMS based in Elizabethtown. “It feels so good to be able to help other people.”
Wilson, who runs the Goliath’s Paw pet service in Marietta, said friends and clients contributed about $600 to this year’s grocery give, which the couple matched. On Monday and Tuesday, they paid for grocery bills until the money ran out.
The reactions they get from shoppers range from pure disbelief to instant tears, the couple said.
Columbia resident Nicole Paris, who was shopping at the Columbia Musser’s early this week, fell under the former category.
“I was shocked,” she said. “It took me a minute to realize what (they) did, and I was just so excited.”
The timing, Paris said, couldn’t have been better.
Paris and her husband have been through a financial roller coaster of late. Her husband has been unable to work since suffering a serious head injury at work in October. What’s more, Paris’ mother has been living with the couple due to health issues.
“It was a wonderful feeling,” Paris said of the couple’s generosity. “This is the best Thanksgiving ever.”
Jackie Strawser, of Columbia, was shopping at Musser’s last year when Shaffer and Wilson snuck up and paid for her grocery bill.
“It was incredible,” said Strawser, who said she had been struggling with her faith at the time.
A day before going to Musser’s she decided to put her faith to the test by donating to the Salvation Army. The next day, her grocery bill came to nearly that exact amount.
“In that moment of doubt, they reinforced through their actions where I felt the Lord was leading,” Strawser said. “It’s bigger than just paying someone’s bill.”
In a typical hour, Shaffer and Wilson pay for about 10 grocery bills at the Columbia Musser’s, said store manager Ryan Siegrist, who has seen firsthand the magic the couple’s grocery give brings every year.
“I don’t think a day goes by that either one of them are in a bad mood. They’re just very pleasant, very friendly people,” Siegrist said. From what I’ve seen, they’re willing to help anybody. They’re giving out their own money just so people can have Thanksgiving dinner.”
And maybe, Wilson hopes, the couple’s generosity could become infectious.
“Go out and just bless somebody in some way,” she said. “Just be good, you know? Be nice.”