Delivering stockings and joy to the homeless over the holidays
By Abigail Thorpe
Photo courtesy of Maker Long Acres
Raye Johnson gained the nickname “FarmHer Raye” at an early age—a name earned because she once said girls make better farmers because they’re a “her.” It’s a fitting name, as you can typically find her out with her dad Kyle working on the family pig farm Maker’s Long Acres in Sagle, Idaho, helping to deliver hogs or milk the cows.
The family raises rare breed hogs, shows them at fairs and community events, and travels throughout the country selling piglets—rare breeds that are particularly sought out, including their own signature hog, the combination of a mix of the best and strongest heritage breeds. They are a busy family, with a passion for sustainable, ethical farming, and for helping those in their community.
Raye is just 7 years old—she’ll be 8 this month—but already she has a particular passion for helping the homeless. For the past couple of years, she’s gathered together gifts and stocking stuffers, and headed out with her family to deliver them on Christmas Day to the homeless throughout Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane—wherever she sees them.
“We just start driving, and when she sees someone, she says, ‘Dad, Dad, Dad! Pull over!’” explains her mother Trina. “She’ll just take off running before we can even get there. She’s not fearless at all.”
Raye will go tromping under bridges, in alleys, behind stores ... anywhere she might find someone in need who she can help brighten their day with a stocking, a friendly smile and some sweet conversation.
It’s become the family tradition on Christmas Day since Raye first decided to start helping the homeless when she was 5. The first year she passed out gifts on her birthday as her birthday wish to do for the day. The gifting day transitioned to Christmas, which seemed more fitting for an opportunity to pass out stockings, but Raye has a passion for helping the homeless no matter the season. She has a gift for seeing and accepting them for just what they are—incredible human beings with wit, a story, and the desire to be seen and heard, just like everyone else. “She just wants people to know that the homeless are people and to just go talk to them. What they crave the most is to be viewed as people,” shares Trina.
Raye’s passion for connecting with the homeless was first triggered at the Wal-Mart parking lot. There were a lot of homeless parked there, and she asked her mother why people were living there. It started a conversation.
Later, the family would have Rodney Smith Jr.—who travels around the country mowing lawns for people who have a need, like single moms and the elderly—stay with them on their farm. Rodney also did a homeless giving drive, and Raye realized she could do one herself on an even bigger level.
“Raye’s kind of a go big or go home kind of girl—whatever she’s doing, she’s all in,” smiles her mom. Even last Christmas Eve, losing her favorite pet pig—which also happened to be one of the biggest on the farm—didn’t stop her. She headed out the next day to deliver presents and joy to those in need.
The family used to just put the stockings together themselves from things they could give or purchase, but this past year Raye wanted more people to get involved, and so the family passed the word along to their farm people—customers, friends, fellow business owners. Jesse Keller of Messy’s Burgers loaded Raye up with all kinds of good stuff to put in the stockings. In 2019 they gave out 50 stockings, but last year they were able to pretty much double that number because so many people donated items.
Raye fills the stockings with thoughtful things she thinks the homeless she knows will use, and things she knows they want. She takes the time to talk to them and really find out what they enjoy or can use. The wish list is filled with items like gum, rice crispy treats, socks, and more. “She knows what they are excited to get, she finds out what they like, what they want,” says Trina. “Whatever people want to donate, we find a way to make it work.”
Trina describes Raye as a half pint with a gallon of attitude—whatever she sets her mind on, she achieves, and she always goes big. And her family’s got her back the whole way, from Kyle and Trina to her brother Harvey and her older sister Hannah. It’s how the family approaches the farm as well.
Nineteen-year-old Hannah manages the butcher shop, and all of the kids work on the farm—7 acres on Shepherd Lake. Ag education is their passion; Maker’s Long Acres is passionate about people knowing their farmer, and they also want their hogs to have a great life. Caring for their animals, the community and people around them is an ingrained part of the farm and family.
Connection is part of the farm’s mission, and it’s also part of Raye’s mission. Each time she delivers gifts or happens upon a homeless person, she takes the time to stop and talk to them, to find out their story, and to really see who they are.
She doesn’t just hand them a gift and run, she talks to them and sings songs with them. “That’s the most magical part, when they’re talking to Raye for those few moments, they’re not homeless … they’re a unique individual,” explains Trina. And that’s exactly what Raye wants to help pass on to others—the realization that the homeless are human beings: beautiful, significant and deserving people who just want to be part of the conversation.
Ultimately, Raye would love to distribute gifts on more than just Christmas Day. She’d love to do it for every holiday—even now, she takes the time to stop even when it’s not Christmas.
Throughout the year, she has a heart for the homeless and is eager to stop and talk whenever she sees someone. It’s a spirit of love, acceptance and giving that perhaps we can all learn a lot from. The spirit of a 7-year-old who sees people exactly as they are—priceless individuals who are worthy of our time.
Individuals and businesses who want to help Raye bless the homeless can follow Maker’s Long Acres’ page on social media and watch for the Christmas fundraising drive later this year, or they can even start donating now, because Raye will always find a way to give to the homeless, no matter the season, and she wants to help encourage others to do the same.