If you have a few dollars to buy a fishing rod and maybe a few tears to roll down your cheeks, a guy named Don Barone needs you. Last Saturday, a mild man with the look of David Crosby sheepishly accepted the Dick Cronin Member Sportsman of the Year award from the New England Outdoor Writers Association for his years of good, honorable work to help children he doesn’t know. Their wooden plaque was a token of appreciation for Don’s vision and efforts for kids who want, who really need to go fishing, kids who have been victims of terrifying storms, kids he rarely sees again.
Enjoying his ESPN investigative reporter job, Don was reluctantly transferred to follow the B.A.S.S pro fishing tour despite protests that he neither fished nor really even liked being outdoors. What has followed is a fine career following freshwater fishing champions all over the country. Work took him through the south where he saw nature provide so much then took shelter as tornados took so much of it back. In Cullman, Alabama he took a picture of a busted fishing pole lying in the grass. Given the wide path of devastation caused by these storms, a broken budget combo set up might be the last thing on your list of concerns, but what Don really saw was a young kid, reeling from having lost everything when he should have been sleeping, someone young holding fragments of a useless fishing rod, some grandfather’s hand-me-down. Don’s mind and heart went into gear. “I wrote, help the children.”
Throughout these storm counties, there are rescue tents, Red Cross stations and internet donation sites to provide, but it was that child, whose perspective on loss was likely much different and likely more severe than an adults, whose everything was all gone, that made Don decide the best way he could help was to come back with fishing rods. “Lose the child, lose the future”. Fishing rods reels and tackle to take away some of that loss, to give back some important possessions and some time on the water.
Don understood that while parents and adjusters must tend to the business of adults, there are kids who can’t put a roof back over their heads, who don’t know what was in the safe deposit box, who haven’t yet realized how much they will miss having pictures in their team t-shirts. Don understood that time on a river bank or swirling bare feet in salt water heals many wounds; it may even turn back some clock to when there was no storm. “A magic wand with a worm at the end”. In Don’s words, when he realized his mission, he picked up the phone, called Bassmaster Classic Champion Skeet Reese and told him,” I need your credit card number”. And so it began.
He started the Tackle the Storm Foundation, which takes your donation and buys fishing rods and gear; a remarkably simple answer to a too common question. Don seems to be a quiet missionary who prefers enjoying the foundations success instead of bragging about it; when he spoke after receiving his award, none of his sentences started with “I”. His group has branched out as sad experience loosened his definition of “storm”, to help kids in other rough situations, even to help a Chicago school who needed some outdoors time for their at-risk kids but just didn’t have the money. “help came in the calm. The calm, after the storm. Came one tear streaked face at a time. In Cullman, Alabama.” This is where you come in.
Your donation helps to purchase rods, reels, tackle, all those things that many of us have filling our garages sheds and walls. We have prized rods and favorite reels. We save rods with broken tips as reminders of some great trip, we have rods we haven’t used in years, we have identical lures in 8 color patterns hanging alongside dozens of unopened bags of plastic imitators. We have walls filled with pictures of outstretched hands and our kids in their team t-shirts. Many of us have so much but when cast in a light of such loss, who cares how much we have or can have or want to have? None of that matters when you hear stories of kids who would just like to have one rod and get the hell away from everything some nameless storm smashed to pieces. Don’s singular humble goal is to share some of what we have with lots of children who don’t have; to share with kids who just want to go fishing and forget how quickly they were forced to grow up.
You can make a difference, right now, by donating to the Tackle the Storm Foundation at www.tacklethestormfoundation.org. If you are in the fishing trade, perhaps there is some way your company can contribute. If you are a fisherman or anyone else who might have a tear welling up above your cheek thinking about such a simple example of the have’s and have-not’s, please give. Check out the website, hit the donate button, maybe buy a hat. Your contribution goes directly to a small group doing big work for young kids in need. As we plot a course offshore, wade into big night surf or quietly swing an Elkwing caddis into our many excellent rivers and shores, to again experience that excitement and peace that comes from fishing, with all our fancy layers of stuff, a cardboard box of fishing rod and reel combo’s will change a lot of lives very quickly and what’s more important than that?
Todd Corayer is a life-long fisherman who lives not far from the Saugatucket with his wife, who supports his fishing mainly to get him out of the house and a young son who regularly catches more fish than him. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org