This is a story of transformation, from certainty of failure into wildest success.

I had been to three grocery stores last Tuesday to solicit food donations for our local Humanity Unites Brilliance food drive. We wanted to feed 20 homeless families whose children attend Libby Booth Elementary School in Reno. Each store said “no,” sometimes because of timing, but mostly because they’d already given locally and didn’t want to give outside their community.

Meanwhile, the Reno branch of my team was so stressed with personal financial struggles they weren’t returning my phone calls.

My company was taxed out with its own insanely generous giving tree project and declined to overburden its staff.

My personal contribution consisted of four tubes of natural children’s toothpaste I had bought from a charity thrift store (that, while refusing to donate, had lowered the price) and a treat I found in my pantry.

The group that organized the food drive is Humanity Unites Brilliance,, which brings together individuals and organizations who want to make a positive difference in the world. Incline’s local HUB branch is small, committed and growing. With members all over the country involved in humanitarian projects, it is truly a hub for benefit and has launched my life into hyperspace.

I felt overwhelmed as I drove to Reno the following night in zero degree temperatures. My body ached. I was crashing with exhaustion. I was convinced we’d be sitting there looking at each other, the three of us who had helped organize, wondering what to do with our 20 empty boxes.

Instead, we had a miracle.

I walked in on a mountain of food with a score of excited people gift wrapping boxes and sorting cans. The sorting became a project since we had such a huge amount. We built a protein castle, one of vegetables, beans, starch, drinks, sauces, big items and of course nuts and candies, besides the many hygiene articles. There was a big warm happy feeling in the room and jolly people were laughing and tossing cans.

Somehow we miraculously got everything to fit in 30 heaping boxes, six of them oversized, along with two bags. Then we got it all to squeeze into a minivan.

One of the people at Reno’s Center for Inspired Living where we met, spoke to us about a brand new project she is launching. Her name is Kitty McKay. She and her late husband Robbie founded Wild Alaskan restaurants. Five years ago Robbie, who seemed as fit as a man could be, died at age 47 from a heart attack while playing ice hockey.

Charity poured out. People built a road to her house, landscaped her property, sent food, and called constantly. Kitty wasn’t able to say, “I need you to clean my toilet”, or “I would love help with meals for the kids,” and instead replied to offers of help that she was ok and thank you very much.

Because of that experience, she’s launched It’s like a bridal registry of services to help in times of need. All of us became Hands of Hope, which means that for five minutes each week we’ll log on to her site and hold hope for those who have registered challenges there. Of course we’ll end up doing more, and, of course, Kitty doesn’t ask for more.

After the van was packed with food, we were all so high we danced and did cartwheels and juggled while an organizer played beautiful original folk guitar.

No one could figure out where all the people or the food came from. No one felt like they did much at all. Now that’s the spirit of Christmas.

Gwendalyn Gilliam is an office administrator at Corporate Visions Inc. in Incline Village.