It started out like any other day. I was driving through one of the rougher parts of Memphis when I noticed I was about to run out of gas. As I pulled into the service station, I glanced over: something had caught my eye. I almost didn't see him at first. He was hunched down into a garbage can digging for something. I thought he was probably homeless. He was an older black man wearing a stained and worn out blue shirt; his pants were barely hanging on, his shoes were falling apart and his skin on his arms looked sun-baked and beaten. If he hadn’t looked up as I passed by, if I had not been paying attention at that exact moment; I would have missed it. But when he came up out of the garbage, when he brought his face into the light, I stopped dead in my tracks. Here, in a nowhere part of Memphis, in the garbage can of a gas station, I was looking at the most incredible smile I'd ever seen. It was amazing! He looked like a 10 year old on Christmas!! Like he had just struck gold! He was holding something in his hands, waving them up and down in celebration.
He had found what he was digging for.
He found his cans.
I had to speak with him. I had to know who this man was and where he came from. I remembered I kept some money in my center console to give to the people begging at the intersections. And fortunately there was $20 still in there. So I decided to offer it to him. When I walked over to him and called for his attention, he looked up at me with these warm and wise old eyes. But there was something wrong. As I looked closer I could see that his pupils were discolored and badly scarred. He couldn't focus directly on me or really look in any one direction. My heart began to slowly break as I realized that this man was blind.
I put the $20 in his hand and told him that God must have wanted me to give it to him because I had run out of gas at this station. He laughed with his whole body and smiled from ear to ear. He gave me a hug and we just laughed and embraced each other for a moment. It was so beautiful.
When I asked him what he was doing, he chuckled and said “I’m hustling cans”. I asked him if he was homeless and he laughed loudly and said, "oh no man!…..this is what I do”. He said his name was JP Kibbler and he spelled it out proudly "K I B B L E R". He told me that he lived right down the street and that he goes out all day to dig for cans and uses the money to feed his family. At this point I was almost in tears.
As JP and I talked I was in a trance. He told how he was 65, and that he had slowly lost his vision to a degenerative eye condition. He told me that he could still see light and a few colors, and that it was just enough to allow him to keep gathering cans for his family. He told me that he had just lost his wife two years ago and since then had been taking care of his family on his own. He said with his cans and his disability money its just enough each month to “keep the lights on”. And then he told me something that didn't truly hit me until I saw it with my own eyes. He told me that he does all this to support his beautiful daughter and 4 grand daughters.
I stayed in touch with JP. He gave me his address and I came back that week to bring him some food and clothing. When I pulled up to his house, I saw them come running out his front door. I finally understood the reason this man goes out into the world blind, from sun up to sundown, 7 days a week, digging for the treasure that his neighbors throw away. It was all for them, the four most beautiful little girls I've ever seen. As I got out of my car they all ran up to me like I was family. I was overwhelmed. The youngest Janelle is 5 and she speaks with the most adorable lisp and has the eyes of an angel. The next oldest Kiera is 6 and she looks just like her grand daddy with a smile to match. After her is Laniya who’s 8 with her bashful and beautiful eyes. And then there's the oldest, Kashauna, 10, who is so soft spoken but radiates with intelligence. They were so beautiful. The moment was so beyond anything I had ever experienced.
I met there mother Jessica who came out behind them and she was just as wonderful. It was obvious that she had inherited JP's eye condition as well as his smile and incredible spirit. There was so much laughter between them all. That's the thing that kept drawing me back. Each time I'd return to JP's I'd bring them little things. All the while I'd learn more and more about how beautiful this family truly was. How strong they were. And eventually, I'd learn how everything they had, everything they were as a family relied on JP. He was the center of it all.
I've never met a stronger man than JP. He may be small but to me he is a titan. The heart that this man has to go out everyday into the world blind, led only by his faith and love for his family, brings me to tears.
After talking with JP and asking him what he needs help with, he's told me this: his ultimate hope is that God will bless his can hunting so that he will have enough money left over to buy him and his girls new clothes; so that they can go to church together.
It's just too beautiful for words. It's just so pure and good. And I want this for him so badly.
JP says that his can sales bring in about $100 a month and that this is just enough with his disability money to keep them going. His daughter Jessica is trying hard to find a job, but until she does, he is the sole bread winner. When I broke it down on paper, the $1,200 a year that JP brings in equalled out to about $3.30 per day. That means that for every $3.30 donated, he could take off a day and spend it with his beautiful girls. And anything more could be used to buy them clothes for church. So truly, with just a $5 donation, we could have a huge impact on this man's life.
I have created this gofundme in hopes that JP’s story will inspire the world, and with a prayer that it will accomplish one thing. I'd like to raise $1,500 for JP so that he can take off from gathering cans for a year, to spend that time with his girls and have money left over to buy them church clothes.
*Update* since we launched JP's gofundme, the world has responded with so much compassion that we are being asked to raise our original goal. This is too beautiful to describe!! In our time together, JP has told me of a dream he has for his 4 beautiful granddaughters: that they could get a good education- a college education. The first for anyone in his family. JP works so hard to provide for his girls, he wants them to have the things he never had. He can't do this alone, but he doesn't have to. Together we can help his family break this cycle of poverty once and for all!! We can give him and his beautiful girls hope for a future!! Thank you so much!!*
That day at the gas station, when I gave JP $20, he told me that he knew God had brought us together for a reason. He said that he was heading back home with his basket of cans that day when something told him to turn around and go down to the service station. And that’s when he met me. I’m so thankful he did. I'm so thankful to know this man, to stand in his presence and call him my friend. He is such a good father. And they are such a good and deserving family. I believe with all my soul that we can help them. I believe that we can. That you can. That the can man can!! Thank you so much for wanting to share in his life and to be a part of his story.
If you’d like to be more involved with JP and his girls, we’d love to connect you. They need you in their lives. They need mentors, friends, and God-parents walking alongside and watching over them. Anything and everything you want to share!! No matter what!! We want all of you!! The bigger the family we can build around them the better!!! Feel free to contact us here:
Right now they would benefit greatly from gift cards that they can use for food or clothing. But if you have anything you’d like to send, any donations of any kind, I will make sure they get it.
The PO box is here (if you can’t ship to a PO box please email us for another address, thank you):
PO BOX 11631
Memphis, TN 38111
You can also follow his story on facebook here:
- Alison Anderson
- Josephine McGhee