Handing Out Smiles: Citizen hands out plates to hospitals
NATCHEZ — Natchez resident Benny Campbell’s only desire is to put a smile on someone’s face.
Campbell, who also goes by Jacky, distributes square Styrofoam plates to area hospital patients, which are decorated with a smile and greeting that says, “Hi, I’m Smiley.”
“My Smiley greetings are both a hobby and a ministry,” Campbell said. “Though I’m a stranger passing through and do not actually visit each patient myself, I trust that God blesses through ‘Smiley’ and that the hospital staff sees to it that the patients receive the plates.”
Campbell’s process to create a pair of eyes, a nose and a smiley face with a stitch of yarn is straightforward.
“I’m a simple person,” Campbell said. “I just like the feel of keeping it simple and down to earth.”
Campbell began this thoughtful gesture when he read an article over a year ago in “The Baptist Record” about churches in Jackson that provided items for sunshine bags for cancer patients at the Baptist medical Center in Jackson.
“Rather than rounding up items such as lotion, bottled water or religious materials, I wanted to make some kind of greeting that would bring cheer to any hospital patient, not just those with cancer,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he saw the square plates in a grocery store, thus realizing he could use it to resemble a picture frame to create his “Smiley” greetings.
After experimenting with the plates and determining the supplies he would need, Campbell finished his first stack of “Smiley” plates between February and March in 2014.
Campbell teaches math at Jefferson County High School in Fayette, so he usually picks a Saturday to take an all-day trip to deliver smiles.
“I try to make a delivery at least once every few months,” Campbell said.
Campbell delivers the “Smiley” plates to Natchez Regional Hospital, Natchez Community Hospital, Riverland Medical Center in Ferriday and Promise Hospital in Vidalia, as well as hospitals in Meadville, Fayette and Centreville — all of which receive a significant amount of plates.
“The quantity of plates delivered depends on the exact number of patients at the hospital that day,” Campbell said. “While one hospital might have just six patients, the next hospital might have 26 or more. I try to take 100 or more plates each trip to have enough.”
The plates, which come in packs of 35, are marked on the back with 12 dots for 12 holes, Campbell said.
Campbell then colors the plates before punching holes through the dots.
“I vary the colors to make each greeting a bit different,” Campbell said. “Then I choose one of the 15 colors of yarn and stitch it through the holes.”
As a final gesture, Campbell tapes his contact information on the back of the plates before sliding each plate into a zipper-seal quart plastic bag for safekeeping.
In the past year, Campbell has made and distributed many plates.
Approximately 648 hospital patients have received one thus far, which Campbell keeps track of by having every plate numbered on the bottom left-hand corner.
Among the many 648 patients, Campbell’s mother, Lola Campbell, has received one of her own.
“(Lola) got the second batch of plates when she was at Natchez Community Hospital in the early parts of 2014,” Campbell said.
His mother now hangs her plate on her lamp at home.
Through Campbell’s goodness, he has received many “thank you” letters in the mail from happy patients across the area.
“I never expect anything in return,” Campbell said. “I hear that the patients and families take ‘Smiley’ home when the hospital stay ends — a true keepsake to cherish that’s free to them and different from the usual socks, water pictures and bedpans.”