"It makes me think that we live in a good country," Kenneth Smith tells WLOX. The 80-year-old Mississippi man has been selling wood on the side of the road since last year, first with his wife, Helen, by his side, then—after Helen's death from lung cancer last month—by himself, the Sun Herald reports. Smith met Helen at the restaurant he'd go to after a day's work building houses; they'd been married for more than 30 years. But Helen's two-year battle with cancer depleted their savings and pushed their Social Security checks to the limit. That left Smith on the side of the road, selling $5 bags of kindling he collected by chopping stumps to pay off Helen's remaining medical bills.
Last week, Smith got the attention of Jessica Pittman when he removed his hat for a passing funeral procession, the BBC reports. She took a picture and posted it on Facebook, asking Gulfport residents to stop by and get a bag of wood. Her post went viral and dozens of new customers started showing up, buying wood and leaving donations. "It overwhelmed me," Smith tells the Sun Herald. Then it got bigger. Smith's son started a GoFundMe page, and donations came pouring in from all over the world. The page has raised more than $50,000 for the man a neighbor calls "wonderful" and "kind." Pittman says she can't believe this all started with a Facebook post. "Although it will not lessen the heartache of losing his wife, I am thankful it will at least take a little worry off of his plate," she says. (Strangers were moved to help an elderly popsicle vendor, too.)