‘Heavy on My Mind,” Stolen Flashlight Leads to Help, Hope

Cliff Brown, Director of TEAM Workz, and Bradlee with his new ride.

By Maggie Beamguard

Insider Editor

Dec. 29 was an ordinary day in the post-holiday retail season for Sam Ransdell at Burney True Value Hardware in Seven Lakes. The staff cleaned up Christmas chaos, made seasonal markdowns, handled regular purchases and returns, restocked and prepared for spring. 

The low was forecast to be 38 degrees that night. “That specific day it was incredibly cold,” he said. “So we had a line of people getting propane that day.”

As the early darkness of winter fell near closing time, something else was afoot. Through store security cameras, Ransdell identified a potential shoplifter. Not one to go lightly on those with sticky fingers, Ransdell confronted the individual.

The exchange would change the lives of at least four people.

A Real Dilemma

The man on camera, whose name is Bradlee, was attempting to steal a flashlight. He explained to Ransdell he was without a home and sharing a tent with his girlfriend nearby. Ashley was eight months pregnant. 

Bradlee readily confessed to what he had done, explaining that they simply could not see in the tent at night and he had no money even for food. They even heard animals circling them while they tried to sleep. The man Ransdell looked at in this moment smelled heavily of campfire and needed a hot shower.

“I was watching him on the cameras the whole time and it looked like he had a mental dilemma of taking the flashlight. I typically never see that,” Ransdell said. “It just kind of was different from the get go.” 

Ransdell watched him grab the flashlight, look at it, return it to the shelf, walk away, walk back, stare at it, shake his head and finally put it in his jacket.

As a man with a business to run, Ransdell always prosecutes shoplifting.

“I don’t care if it’s a candy bar or if it’s a chainsaw,” he said. “I just try to get the message out there pretty strong and clear that we do not tolerate it.” 

Bradlee admitted to Ransdell that jail sounded preferable to him, but he didn’t want to leave Ashley out there alone at night.

A Call for Help

Maybe it was the proximity to Christmas and the story of another young couple in a precarious situation without a place to stay for the night? Or maybe that it was so darn cold? Maybe it was just the look in Bradlee’s eyes? Or maybe it was his obvious turmoil when pocketing the flashlight?

Ransdell can’t quite pin it down. There was just something different about this situation. He got some information from the man about how to reach him and sent him into the darkness with a single light.

“When I left that night, I just couldn’t quit thinking about it,” he said. “It was just kind of heavy on my mind. I’m like here living in a nice warm house and these people are literally living in a tent in our backyard. I told my wife about it and we just decided that it was, you know, if all this information checks out, we’re going to try to do whatever we can to help them.”

The stories lined up, and it did appear to Ransdell that this couple had fallen on hard times. 

In a Facebook post, Ransdell wrote, “I’m always skeptical about this kind of thing, but I honestly feel like this guy is in need of some help. Can anybody please help me find some resources for this man and his pregnant girlfriend?”

A Herculean Effort

What happened next was an effort of herculean proportions to get help for this down-on-their luck couple. It was important to Ransdell that this young couple was committed to following through with the next steps.

“I think the big thing is that they’ve never had anybody that cared about either one of them,” he said. “The more I talked to him, the more I realized they were like teenagers, you know, they don’t know how to do anything. So we coached them along.”

The couple needed food stamps, pre- and post-natal medical care, jobs, a car, a place to stay, furniture, clothes and diapers. And blankets. In that cold tent, the couple didn’t even have blankets. It would take an entire community rallying together to move them to less harrowing ground. People donated time, money, food, furnishings, rides and other forms of assistance.

Finding the Right Team 

Ransdell admits his passion is selling hardware and not helping the homeless. The learning curve was steep. He connected with Cliff Brown, Director of TEAM Workz, an organization Brown started in 2019 with the purpose of helping those seeking help in times of need and forming relationships with them. The organization provides shelter, rides to appointments, food, clothing, hygiene items, counseling and emotional and logistical support. 

Rather than targeting an individual need someone might have, TEAM Workz takes a holistic approach, pulling together an array of resources. People who are struggling face a myriad of issues that are hard to overcome alone.

Between the resources at TEAM Workz and Ransdell’s coordination of a Go-Fund-Me and the collection of material goods, things started falling into place. 

Bradlee and Ashlee are now living in a trailer. Ashlee’s baby was born on Jan. 27 with a roof over its head. Bradlee got a job at Glass Doctor and Ashley briefly worked at Dollar General before the baby was born. A vehicle was also secured for them along with insurance, taxes and tags.

Navigating Challenges

Ransdell describes securing the couple that trailer as an eye opening experience.

“I came to find out what a lot of landlords do around here, at least for these trailer parks, is they’ll accept applications for three weeks. It’s like $50 to $100 to accept applications,” he said. “Well, they only pick one of them. And so they make a year’s worth of money on that trailer just accepting applications.”

There are lots of resources available in the community, but Ransdell observed that for someone who is struggling, those resources can be difficult to access or limited to situations that don’t apply to actual needs. And that’s where TEAM Workz excelled.

In a statement on social media, Ransdell credited TEAM Workz with knowing how to apply the right resources to this particular situation. 

“They did great with this,” Ransdell said. “I don’t know a lot of homeless people like this, and so for me I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never been in this situation. I don’t know what to say or what to do, so I’d call Cliff.” 

Brown ended up getting the couple to the TEAM Workz office to lay eyes on them and talk. They put everything out on the table and made a plan. 

With this one young couple’s most basic needs fulfilled, they will continue to have a supportive partner in TEAM Workz as they adjust to their new responsibilities. 

Inspired to Act

In a few short weeks, a flicker of compassion transformed not just the lives of Bradlee and Ashley and their newborn child, but Ransdell. 

“The stars aligned and this guy was at the right place at the right time,” Ransdell said. “I think we crossed paths for a reason. And I think that maybe I was meant to rally the community.”

Through his growing awareness of homelessness in Moore County, Ransdell feels impelled to raise that awareness in others.

Ransdell also hopes to continue to partner with TEAM Workz for the foreseeable future. He will be allowing customers to “round up” their receipts to donate the extra change to the organization. He hopes other local businesses will consider following suit. 

“We want this story to hopefully evolve into opening the eyes of other people so that TEAM Workz can continue their mission and we can make a bigger difference in Moore County,” Ransdell said.

‘By God, They Listened’

It’s a partnership Brown has been grateful to make. Ransdell has become Brown’s hero for the way he jumped into the deep end to help rally assistance and for initiating the Go Fund Me.

“Most people would donate a few dollars or donate clothing or food or an item. And that’s great, but it doesn’t solve homelessness,” said Brown, who spends 70 to 80 hours a week assisting people experiencing homelessness.

“What Sam did was he took it a step further. He saw a need for the young couple that was pregnant, and he didn’t give him a sandwich and let it go.” He learned about the issues and available resources. He raised money. He made lasting connections.

“It is a testament to Sam. He is well-respected not only in the community, but in the county as a whole. People know the name Burney Hardware and they respect it and the Ransdell family. When Sam spoke, by God they listened. And it was overwhelming.”

Impressed by the hands-on assistance and array of resources TEAM Workz was able to provide Bradlee and Ashley, Ransdell has become a full-throated advocate.

He encourages people interested in addressing homelessness in Moore County to reach out to Brown at www.teamworkz.org or its Facebook page to learn what the most needs are. A volunteer form and a list of donation requests can be found online.

The organization is assembling a “transitional advancement center” and revamping its office space to provide longer term strategy programs, housing and affiliated services. It plans to highlight this program at a community cookout and open house on March 16 at 152 South Stephens St. in Southern Pines. 

Brown seeks financial resources to expand his group’s mission to end homelessness in Moore County as well as people who can serve as volunteers from their areas of strength. Professionals can donate expertise in budgeting and finances or helping to draw up architectural plans for tiny homes or assist with grant writing.

Immediate financial support is needed for its cold weather relief program and encourages people to use the donate button on its website to help provide warm shelter. 

On that cold night in late December, at least four lives — Sam’s, Bradlee’s, Ashley’s, and their child’s — were affected when Ransdell listened to his own inward voice telling him something was different. The hope now is for many more. 

Contact Maggie Beamguard at maggie@thepilot.com.