Chauncy’s Chance: A Random Encounter Changes a Teen's Life
During a trip to the grocery store in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, a man by the name of Matt White was approached by a young stranger, a teenage boy who admitted he was very hungry. The boy didn't want a handout — he was willing to do some work for a meal.
However, Matt decided to help without asking for anything in return. His decision forever altered the course of the young man's life. Take a look at how it all happened on that fateful day.
A Routine Trip
One night, Matt White was making his weekly trip to a local Kroger grocery store for food and other household supplies. The 30-year-old music business graduate walked around different aisles in the store, grabbing what he needed to make meals at home for the next week.
The Kroger store was in the middle of an upper-class part of Memphis, a city sadly plagued with poverty in other areas. Matt had never experienced anything out of the ordinary at the store, but it was much different this particular night. After he paid for his groceries and walked toward his car, he noticed someone approaching him.
A Mysterious Stranger
As Matt made his way to his car, a teenage boy began walking toward him. He was automatically curious but also cautious, wondering what the teen could want from him. It was late at night, and the teen should have been at home, not at a grocery store speaking to strangers.
The boy finally reached Matt but struggled to find the words to say. As they looked at each other, Matt noticed that the boy looked down and ashamed. He wasn't sure what the teen wanted, but his heart truly felt for him right from the start.
A Sad Mission
As Matt stood over the young boy and listened intently, the teen explained himself. He was 16 years old, and his name was Chauncy Jones Black. He had taken the bus to get to what he referred to as the "rich people's Kroger" because he needed food.
The boy didn't want money or any other handout. He was willing to do manual labor for a meal. Chauncy only had an hour before he had to catch the last bus back to his side of town, so he had little time to spare. He was hopeful that he had found someone to assist him.
Willing to Help
The teen clearly was in need of help. "He looked ashamed, hungry and broken," Matt later said about the incident in an interview. Chauncy was desperate, willing to do even the smallest task for Matt to help him get a bite to eat. He asked to help carry Matt's groceries to the car.
In return, all the teen wanted was a package of glazed doughnuts to snack on. "In my heart, I screamed a loud ‘yes!’ But to him, I just chuckled and said, ‘Yeah, dude, we’ll get you some doughnuts,'" Matt shared.
Getting to Know Each Other
As the two ventured back inside the Kroger grocery store, Matt found himself even more curious about the young boy. He felt terrible for Chauncy and had an overwhelming desire to help. However, he wanted to know more about the teen's back story.
The two walked through the store toward the doughnuts that Chauncy wanted. As they talked, Matt found out that he lived with his mom, and the two didn't have much in terms of possessions. Chauncy didn't even have a cell phone on him to call home if necessary. All the boy had with him was a bus pass.
A Tug at the Heartstrings
After Chauncy got his desired doughnuts, Matt still felt like he could do much more for him. The boy and his mother had nothing to eat at home. Chauncy was so hungry that he had resorted to offering to work for a meal. Doughnuts simply weren’t enough for the mother and son.
Although some might say it wasn't Matt's responsibility — and most would have walked away from the situation themselves — Matt stood firm. Chauncy seemed like a good kid who was just down on his luck. The older man knew he had to step in and help.
A Shopping Spree
The two continued to talk as Matt casually strolled through different aisles with a cart. Chauncy thought Matt would head straight to the cash register, but he didn’t. Matt was slowly putting food and other products Chauncy and his mom could use at home in the cart.
He grabbed a variety of different things, from cereal and junk food to fruit, pasta and peanut butter. He even grabbed some soap, toothbrushes and other toiletries the two might need. Chauncy was amazed that a complete stranger would do all this for him.
A Teen Leader
The pair continued to chat as they walked through the aisles of the store. Matt discovered more about the teen's home life and his schoolwork. He found out that Chauncy was a straight-A student at his high school, and he was looking for a job to help his mother pay the rent.
Matt was amazed at the teen's tenacity and willingness to step up to the plate for his family. Although he was in a desperate situation, Chauncy wanted much more for his life, and he believed he could have more. He had big goals and was steadily working to make them happen.
While speaking with Matt, Chauncy kept referring to himself as "poor," but that didn't mean he planned to stay that way. Matt had already learned some things about the teen's current circumstances. Now, Chauncy opened up about his future plans.
The teen wanted to become a wealthy business owner — but not just for his own sake. He wanted to give back to others in his community — maybe even buy them groceries like Matt was doing for him. Matt was touched when he heard Chauncy's big dreams, including his desire to help others in need in the future as well.
A Ride Home
After getting the groceries for Chauncy and his mom, Matt paid for everything at the checkout counter. The teen sincerely thanked him for his help and began walking toward the bus stop to catch the last bus home. As he walked away, Matt reflected on the situation.
At that point, he was financially and emotionally invested in the teen. He realized he couldn't let Chauncy drag all those bags of groceries home on the bus, so he offered to drive the teen home and deliver the groceries himself. Chauncy humbly accepted the help.
A Humble Abode
When Matt reached Chauncy's home, he realized the teen hadn't been exaggerating about his family’s difficulties. Matt was stunned to see that the residence was basically empty, except for a few items.
Not only did Chauncy and his mom not have food in the refrigerator, but they also didn't have beds to sleep on comfortably. The two were sleeping on makeshift "beds" made out of sleeping bags. They had two lamps for light, some clothes — and that was it. It opened Matt's eyes to the problem of severe poverty in Memphis.
Matt also met Chauncy’s mom and learned more about her own struggles in raising her son on her own. His mom, Barbara, was extremely kind and was thankful to Matt for his assistance with her son. Matt noticed that she seemed to be physically weak and appeared to be in serious pain.
He discovered that Barbara had a physical condition that made it hard for her to get around on her own. She wanted to do more for herself and Chauncy, but she was physically unable to do much. Matt was completely heartbroken when he heard her story.
After Matt talked a little with Barbara, he began unpacking the bags of groceries he had bought for her and Chauncy. As he filled the fridge and cabinets with food, Chauncy's eyes lit up, and he had a spark of energy. "He looked like a kid again," Matt said.
After Matt unpacked everything, he began to say his goodbyes. He gave both Chauncy and Barbara a big hug and went to his car to head back home. However, that certainly wasn’t the last time he came in contact with the mother-son duo.
An Unforgettable Experience
After he left, Matt couldn't get Chauncy and Barbara out of his head. He did a little digging on his own and learned more about the Black family. Chauncy and Barbara had been living in poverty for several years, with only Barbara's disability checks to help them make ends meet. Unfortunately, those checks clearly weren't enough to even keep food on the table.
The Blacks were struggling to survive. Chauncy, a growing teenager, hadn't been able to purchase new clothes for himself in three years. Beyond buying a week's worth of groceries, Matt began thinking of ways he could help this family in the long term.
Sharing the Story
Matt was financially stable, but he wasn't rich like Chauncy may have assumed. He didn’t have money to donate to help the Black family get back on their feet. However, he knew about one powerful tool that could help: social media.
Matt shared his encounter with Chauncy and Barbara on Facebook, hoping that someone might know a better way to help. He hoped that Chauncy's story would inspire others to help those in need when they could. Chauncy's story ended up doing much more than inspire a few people. After more people heard his story, support started rolling in.
Taking Things Further
After Matt published his post on Facebook, he decided to take things a step further. He created a GoFundMe page in Chauncy's name and shared the link online so people could donate to the family. The page also included information about Chauncy's clothing sizes in case anyone wanted to help him get new clothes.
Matt and Chauncy later did a brief video for Kroger, detailing their encounter and Chauncy's story. Physically seeing the pair together warmed the hearts of those who watched it. People across the country could relate to Chauncy's situation, and the story quickly picked up steam.
A Grand Scheme
As both Matt's Facebook post and Kroger's video got more traffic, the donations began pouring into Chauncy's GoFundMe page. Matt saw how much money was accumulating, and he had a specific plan for how to use it.
Chauncy wanted to work, so the money could go toward helping him establish a way to earn some income. The goal was to raise enough money to buy Chauncy a high-quality lawnmower to cut lawns and earn money during the summer. That way, he could buy school supplies, new clothes and food with his earnings. However, the GoFundMe page quickly made much more money than Matt ever expected.
Matt's Facebook page and the GoFundMe page he created went viral. At the time, his Facebook post had been shared 14,000 times and had 3,500 comments. Not only were people making financial donations, but strangers were reaching out to Matt with offers of jobs, food, clothing and even dental care for Chauncy and his mom.
With all this support, Matt's goal to buy Chauncy a lawnmower seemed like a small plan in hindsight. Instead, he realized the donations could go toward Chauncy's college education and a new home for the Black family. Chauncy would undoubtedly make the most of any opportunity given to him.
Outpouring of Love
With all the traffic online, the GoFundMe account eventually raised more than $340,000! That was much more than Chauncy and Barbara could have earned in years. Barbara had always wanted to take good care of her son, but there wasn’t much she could do with her medical condition.
"I did the best I could," she recalled at the time. "The past few years, Chauncy has been taking care of me. He’s a good boy. I couldn’t ask for better." Suddenly, she and Chauncy had the means to get their lives on track.
After the story went viral, media outlets like People, ABC and The Daily Mail began covering Chauncy's story. The coverage was so extensive that it became a real movement known as "Chauncy's Chance." The teen was often recognized while out in public, and he became a local star in Memphis.
Chauncy was thankful that his life had turned around. "It's so awesome. My life has been completely changed," the teen shared with People. "I can't go anywhere now without people recognizing me. They go, 'Oh my God, you're Chauncy!' And I'm like, 'Yes, ma'am.' I'm very happy and very grateful to everybody."
Watching Their Backs
Chauncy became a local celebrity almost overnight, but the attention wasn't always a good thing. The money his family received from the GoFundMe campaign attracted plenty of people who didn't have good intentions for him or his mom.
Chauncy revealed that distant relatives came out of the woodwork with requests for help. "My relatives were like, 'When you get some money, can you help me?' asking for help in business and all that kind of stuff," Chauncy admitted. Obviously, Chauncy had once done the same, but it was upsetting to have people who never cared about him before suddenly want something from him.
People with a lot of money typically have outside professionals like accountants and lawyers to help them manage their funds. Chauncy and his mom realized they had to come up with a game plan to handle the money, and Matt offered to help.
Matt planned to work with the Black family to help them find an attorney to assist with the money. "They take the least amount of hits on taxes. So, it's set up in a trust and not at risk of anybody trying to come and claim it," Matt said to a local news channel.
A Strong Faith
Although it might be tempting to think Matt was trying to profit in some way from Chauncy and Barbara, he helped them out of the kindness of his heart and asked for nothing in return. Part of the reason for his support was simple — his faith in God.
Matt is a practicing Christian who believes that God has called him and other believers to help others. He believed that God was the force behind his first meeting with Chauncy and that God orchestrated the donations the young man received. "In every sense of the word, God has provided," Matt said.
The Price of Fame
In spite of the many blessings that Chauncy and Barbara have received, Matt acknowledges that the fame came with its share of disadvantages. Looking back, he wishes he and the family had consulted a press representative to handle all the media attention — and the critical backlash they eventually received from skeptics and haters.
Matt, Chauncy and Barbara weren’t prepared for the huge amount of media coverage. They got requests from businesses, news stations, television networks and even GoFundMe on a daily basis. Needless to say, it was pretty overwhelming for three regular people to handle on their own.
Nonetheless, Chauncy and his mom have mostly benefited from the chain of events, and they are thankful for everyone who donated. Their assistance helped them completely change their lives for the better. They are even more grateful for Matt, who really went the extra mile to look out for them.
The mother and son have never had anything but nice things to say about Matt and his character. "He's the nicest person I've ever met," Chauncy told a news outlet. "Nobody ever cared more than he did." Barbara added, "He's family, that's what he is. He's in our lives forever now."
Helping a Community
The Black family actually weren’t the first people Matt had helped in Memphis. He had regularly worked with organizations to help children and adults in need in the past. He also posted charitable efforts on his Facebook page to inspire others.
Matt had once set up a GoFundMe page for a blind bottle collector in the community known affectionately as the Can Man. The man — real name J.P. Kibbler — dug through trash every day to collect cans so he could feed his daughters and four granddaughters. Matt helped raise $36,000 for his family.
Hoping to Inspire
For Matt, none of his actions were for the attention or for show. In his Christian faith, he believes in the principle of "do unto others as you would like done unto you." His work with Chauncy and Barbara was a clear testament to his faith.
He does hope others learn from his story and are inspired by it to take their own actions. He has encouraged others to "look for Chauncys out there" they could help. Matt added, "The focus of this is not me and what I did, because I really didn't do anything. I just captured a story and put it online."
Poverty in Memphis
This story brought to light the extreme poverty in the city of Memphis. According to a 2017 report from the University of Memphis, the city had the largest amount of poor people out of all the largest cities in America. The poverty rates were highest among African Americans.
Dr. Elena Delavega, who produces the report annually, revealed that several factors contribute to the city's high poverty rate. Those factors include transportation problems and a low minimum wage. Sadly, based on statistics, it wasn’t surprising that Chauncy and Barbara were living in poverty.
The Impact on Children
According to Dr. Delavega's report, the child poverty rate in Memphis was 44.7% at the time. "What that means and I want you to think about it is that when you see a child walking down the street, when you see a child, there's a 50-50 chance that that child is living in poverty," she revealed in an interview.
Although Matt's assistance was amazing, and it was great to see people band together for the Black family, it will take much more than that to combat poverty in the city. Financial resource allocation and legislation need to change to make a significant impact on the city as a whole.
A Bigger Plan
Matt is adamant that God played a part in Chauncy's situation. "Before there was any money, this was just me using videos and Facebook to try to effect change on the direction of a young man's life through the kindness of others," Matt said.
Now, Chauncy and Barbara have a home and are committed to paying it forward. Matt wants to do the same. "I just want to tell everyone that made this possible how much it means to me and that I promise I'll work ‘til the day I die to help keep it moving," he stated.