By Kelly Baughman

In a world where it sometimes seems rare to find a giving spirit, Ian and Nicole Blackwell shine bright every holiday season.  The couple, along with the help of their son, family, and friends, make giving back at Thanksgiving and beyond an annual tradition that keeps growing each year, touching the hearts of those less fortunate.

“It began for us when we decided that we wanted to take our son, Brayden, to the Waterfront Mission to serve meals to those less fortunate during the holidays.  At the time, he was too young to serve people in the line, so they gave us packaged meals to deliver.  Seeing the impact it had on not only the people we served, but our son as well made us want to continue helping,” Nicole said.

The next Thanksgiving, after receiving an extra turkey from one of their employers, the Blackwell’s decided to cook it, along with all the traditional trimmings, and deliver hot meals on their own to the homeless living all over Pensacola.  “We just took the boxes, jumped in the car, and drove around until we saw someone who needed a hot meal.  We did 15 meals that first year, and it’s just kept growing since then.”

In their second year, the Blackwell’s handed out around 30 meals at Thanksgiving, and started a new tradition on Christmas of gifting those in need with the basic necessities so many of us take for granted.  “We had some family members and friends donate blankets, hats, gloves, socks, and personal hygiene items that we put into bags for people.  We once again, jumped in the car on Christmas Day and searched for those who didn’t have a home or a way to keep warm.  It was nice to be able to give back on a day that is so much about receiving,” she said.

This year, the Blackwell’s say they plan on serving as many as 40 meals on Thanksgiving Day and will put together 50 bags full of goods on Christmas Day, all completely funded and organized by themselves along with family and friends.  And while they say it feels good to do something that makes others smile, the Blackwell’s say there’s a deeper reason behind their mission.

“We’ve tried to teach our son that no matter who you are, how much money you have, or what your situation is, we are no better than anyone else.  We treat all people with the same respect, and offer a hand whenever we can,” Nicole said.  And their approach is working.  Their son, now 15, is a scholar athlete at Escambia High School, a role model to his peers, and genuinely looks forward to their holiday tradition of helping others each year.

“We aren’t doing this out of pity or for any recognition.  We do it because we want the homeless to know that we acknowledge them as human beings.  You would be surprised how good you can make someone feel just by looking them in the eye and treating them like everyone else.  They deserve dignity and respect just like you and I,” Ian said.

Nicole added that while it doesn’t have to be a holiday to help someone, it feels good to let them know that someone cares on that special day.  “We want to make these people feel like someone cares for them and give them a piece of the same holiday traditions that we love.  Family and friends are everything, and no one deserves to be alone in this world.  We want to remind them that someone cares.”

And while the Blackwell’s say they appreciate donations from friends, family, and co-workers, they aren’t asking the public for help.  Instead, they encourage others to get out and do for others this holiday season.  

“We hope that other people will get out and make a difference in some way.  The world is such a nasty place sometimes, and we are so divided these days.  Doing what we do doesn’t solve the world’s problems, but it does bring a little bit of happiness and unity back between people.  If we can do one good deed, and in turn the next person passes it on, as so on….the world might be a better place.”