Legacy of Alabama man who secretly paid pharmacy bills grows as fund is duplicated

A month after an Alabama farmer revealed decades-old donations to help townspeople pay their pharmacy bills, Hody Childress’ fund is now four times what it was when he died on New Year’s Day.

And as news of the DeKalb County man’s generosity spreads around the world, people are starting to set up their own funds in their own communities.

Childress, 80, had an arrangement with Geraldine Drugs on Richey Street in the town of fewer than 1,000.

On the first day of every month, he presented owner Brooke Walker with a folded $100 bill, with the understanding that Walker would use the money to help people who couldn’t pay their drugstore bills.

Childress, a Lockheed Martin retiree in Huntsville, was a farmer who survived both his wife and son. He was remembered by the family as a man whose “happy seat” was on his tractor, who enjoyed fishing, enjoyed spending time with his family, and read his Bible regularly.

Walker, who bought part of the store in 2015, doesn’t remember exactly when Childress started practicing, but he believes it was eight to 10 years ago.

“It was so casual,” Walker recalled.

“The first time I thought that was it. He never said, ‘I’m going to keep doing this.’ It just kept happening.” He didn’t want to know what the money was being used for, and he didn’t want credit for it. His only instruction was to tell the recipients that the money was “a blessing from the Lord.”

Sometimes the donation was several hundred dollars.

Walker said he would quietly hand over the folded money and walk away in such a way that anyone watching might not realize what is happening. “You know what to do with that,” he would say sometimes.

It was only three months before Childress died that he revealed the fund to his daughter, Tania Nix, when he was unable to leave the house.

“One day I went to the drug store and he said, ‘I’ve been doing something for a while and I want you to keep doing it for as long as I live,'” Nix said.

“I went to the drugstore and said, ‘I’m Hody Childress’ daughter and you’ll know what to do with it.’ I thought he’d been doing this for a few months, but that’s all I knew at the time.”

It was only after Childress’ death that his family became curious and discovered how long he had been making the contributions. Walker said it’s a responsibility she takes very seriously. Just before people were faced with the uncomfortable choice of buying or not buying medication, Walker was able to help them.

“You see people rationalizing in their heads what they’re going to do,” she said. “I’m honored that he allowed me to do this. And it really encouraged me to do the same in my life.”

Within weeks of Childress’ funeral, the fund’s story was being told and shared online, in newspapers, on radio and television around the world.

Nix said she was contacted by a reporter from Japan.

The story was told in newspapers in Britain and Israel, among others. Walker said she’s done countless interviews with media outlets across the US, but the reaction to the story, both near and far, continues.

Childress’ family said they wanted to keep the fund going. People in Geraldine came in wanting to make their own contribution.

One night, Walker said, she spent her commute home from work having a 30-minute phone conversation with a Washington man.

“He said, ‘I love people and I think that was his motive. Can I give you his donations for a year?’ I was absolutely blown away,” Walker said.

More than 20 phone calls followed from California, Minnesota, Florida. And last Wednesday, handwritten letters with donations arrived. A few anonymous letters simply said, “You know what to do with this.” A person from St. Louis sent a newspaper with the story of Childress and a $100 bill.

Another letter from Maryland reads in part:

“Bringing an 80-year-old to tears and joy reading an article was a reminder that there is good where hate has been spit, hope where darkness has reigned, and that good is a well-learned family value,” it reads Letter. “Kindness goes a long way, especially paired with acceptance.”

One of Walker’s former graduate school classmates at a pharmacy sent her a message with a photo of a $100 bill, saying a regular customer had come regarding Childress’ story and given the money and said he hoped to be able to make a similar contribution every month.

“Some of the letters we’ve received are about what an inspiration it was to hear what Hody did,” Walker said. “It’s been an encouraging thing for her to be a more compassionate, loving person, and they’re setting up Hody funds in their own towns in their own dispensaries. I knew he never thought anyone in California would do something like that.”

Nix, who also contributed to a pharmacy in her hometown, said her father would have been grateful that “people want to help people.”

“I think he would be happy that people are trying to take care of their own communities and the people around them,” she said.