US & Canada

Wood-selling US man, 80, inspires thousands

Kenneth Smith with his kindling Image copyright James Edward Bates
Image caption Kenneth Smith has been selling bags of kindling to cover his late wife's medical bills

An online campaign to raise money for a US man trying to pay his late wife's medical bills by selling wood on the side of the road has raised almost $20,000 (£16,136) in just three days.

Kenneth Smith, 80, spends hours a day standing on the roadside in Mississippi, selling bags of kindling.

Last year, he was joined by Helen, his wife of more than 30 years, as they struggled to pay her medical expenses.

After she died in October Mr Smith was left to raise the money by himself.

Her two-year battle with lung cancer not only took large chunks of their monthly income, but also wiped out their savings.

But then Jessica Pittman spotted the elderly gentleman's mark of respect for a passing funeral cortege - taking his straw hat off as it passed - and she decided to act.

"My heart breaks every time I pass him," Ms Pittman wrote in a Facebook post which has since been shared 9,000 times as she appealed for people to go and buy a bag from Mr Smith.

'We live in a good country'

But they went one step further.

A GoFundMe page was set up by Mr Smith's son, Leslie, to help with the expenses, with donations flooding in from as far afield as Australia.

Ms Pittman told the BBC that she posted the photo "just thinking it would prompt some of my neighbours to stop and buy some wood to help him".

She said she had "no clue" the response would be so overwhelming.

"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 and help him make ends meet," she said.

Ms Pittman said that she lives close to where Mr Smith parks to sell his kindling wood and passed him nearly every day.

"He was always kind and so respectful," she said.

On the occasion of the funeral, police had stopped traffic for the procession.

"I saw Mr Smith standing there in his usual overalls and straw hat. He was standing to attention with his straw hat over his heart. It really moved me... it was an honour to witness. I felt overwhelmed with emotion and even had a few tears."

As for Mr Smith, he too admits he has been "overwhelmed" with the response.

"It makes me think that we live in a good country and this is part of it," he told WLOX.

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