Jason finished his brownie and joined the group gathering in the hallway. It was time for the scavenger hunt at Anna’s party.
“Here are your lists,” Anna said, handing out the sheets of paper to the three team captains.
Jason took his and said, “Come on, team!” Emily, Crystal, Rob, and Mark followed him into the kitchen. The other teams went into different rooms to examine their lists.
“We have to be ready to go when the whistle blows,” Jason said.
“What’s on our list?” asked Emily.
Jason studied the sheet. “These things shouldn’t be too hard to find,” he said. “A dog food coupon, half an English muffin, yesterday’s newspaper, a piece of junk jewelry, a sock—”
“Nobody’s going to give us one sock,” Rob interrupted.
“They will if the mate’s been lost,” said Crystal.
“As I was saying,” continued Jason, “a paper clip, a used postage stamp, a magazine, a thumbtack, a red button—”
“Wait!” Emily yelled. She reached into her jeans pocket and fished around for a moment. “Look!” She pulled out a button.
“We can’t use that,” Mark told her. “We have to get the stuff from houses. It’s the rules, just like staying together is.”
“Besides,” Crystal said, “part of the fun is getting the stuff.”
“OK,” said Emily. “I think my mom will want to sew it back on my blouse, anyway.” She put the button back into her pocket.
“What else?” Mark asked.
“Just a packet of ketchup like you get in restaurants and a brown shoelace.”
“This should be a cinch,” said Rob. “What area do we hunt in?”
“We have the section west of Ames Street and south of here.”
Emily sighed. “That’s kind of a poor area. I bet they won’t have half this stuff.”
“Don’t worry,” said Crystal. “Everyone has things like these. We’re not asking for microwave ovens!”
Wheeet! A whistle pierced the air.
“Let’s go!” Jason hollered, and they hurried for the front door, bumping into the other two groups. Everyone squeezed through the door and raced away.
The shoelace, newspaper, thumbtack, and paper clip were easy. One stop took care of them all. Two houses later they got the button, the dog food coupon, and the stamp. Next, someone gave them a worn-out green sock and suggested that they try the house across the street for the jewelry because the lady there was always having garage sales.
Not only did the lady across the street give them an old bracelet, but she also provided them with the packet of ketchup and an old Friend magazine.
Now they had just one item to get. But though they went to ten houses in a row, no one had an English muffin.
Finally they found themselves near the end of a dead-end street. The only house that they hadn’t tried was a tiny, shabby-looking one.
“Shall we try it?” asked Jason.
Emily shook her head. “They’re not going to have an English muffin in there. I don’t even want to go to the door.”
“I say we try it,” Jason said. “It can’t hurt to ask.”
“We’re already here, Em,” Rob coaxed her. “What do we have to lose?”
“I agree with Rob and Jason,” said Crystal.
There’s something forlorn about this house, Jason thought as he led the group to the door and knocked. For a minute he thought that no one was home. Then suddenly the porch was bathed in light, and the door opened slowly.
“Yes? Can I help you?” The frailest, oldest-looking woman Jason had ever seen stood in the doorway, wearing a much-mended robe.
She looks afraid of us, thought Jason. He smiled apologetically and said, “We’re sorry to bother you. We’re on a scavenger hunt and—well—we’re sorry to disturb you.”
As he and the others started to turn away, the lady quavered, “Wait! What do you need for your hunt?”
“Well …” Jason hesitated, wishing that she hadn’t asked. It was bad enough disturbing her, but asking for food …
“Half an English muffin,” Crystal reluctantly admitted, her face turning pink.
To their surprise, the woman invited them in. As they stepped into the clean but worn-looking front room, the old lady hurried toward the kitchen, saying, “I just might be able to help.”
Crystal followed the woman into her kitchen while the rest of the group waited in the front room. No one mentioned the patched furniture or the water stains on the ceiling, but they were all uncomfortably aware of the shabby room.
A moment later the woman came back and said, “Here you go, children.” She gestured toward Crystal, who followed her, carrying an English muffin.
“But—but”—Jason stammered—“you didn’t need to—”
“Go ahead. Take it,” urged the old lady. “I went on a few scavenger hunts in my day, you know. Now, you children hurry, or you might not win.” There was a twinkle in her eye as she held the door open. “Good luck!” she called after them.
When they were halfway up the street, Crystal said, “I tried to stop her. I feel terrible taking it. Do you know what she had in her kitchen? Hardly anything. That was her last English muffin. She got it out of her refrigerator, and all that was left in there were a few eggs. Her cupboard didn’t have a door, and there were only two cans of tomato soup, a box of oatmeal, and a box of instant rice in it. It was … pitiful!”
Rob said, “Maybe she just hasn’t been to the store yet.” But he didn’t sound like he believed it.
“Nobody’s groceries get that low,” Emily said, “unless they’re really poor.”
Even though no one was in much of a hurry now, Jason’s team still reached Anna’s house first. When the other teams returned and congratulated Jason’s team for winning, he explained why none of them seemed very happy.
Suddenly Emily exclaimed, “I have an idea! Maybe this scavenger hunt is just beginning.” After she told them her idea, everyone eagerly broke into teams again, this time carrying empty boxes.
“Sorry to bother you again,” Jason said to the lady who had given them the jewelry when she came to the door. “We’re on another hunt.”
“Two in one night?” she asked.
“Sort of. You see, while we were out before, we found an elderly woman who needs a few things.” After he had explained, the woman gave them some canned food and a blanket.
From house to house they went. People were generous with food, clothing, and other items. An hour later they returned to Anna’s. The other teams had done well too.
With half a dozen volunteers to carry sacks and boxes, Jason led the way to the old woman’s house. But when they got there, they found that all the lights were out.
“She must be in bed,” whispered Jason. “I don’t want to bother her again. Does anyone have a pen and paper?”
Crystal gave him both, and while the boxes were being stacked quietly just outside the door, Jason wrote: “Thanks for the muffin. We won!” He placed the note inside his sack, where the woman was sure to see it.
And he thought as they walked away that, because of her act of trusting kindness, they had all won.