An Unexpected Kindness: Unique donation provides assistance and perspective

On November 15, 2021, EveryStep staff getting ready for another day of wrapping and packing EveryStep Grief & Loss Services Cheer Boxes at an Urbandale warehouse discovered the facility had been broken into overnight. Two vehicles, electronics, volunteer resources and Cheer Box items had been stolen.

As word spread through the media, donations started pouring from individuals, groups and businesses to help replace the items needed to fill the Cheer Boxes, which are delivered to families and individuals feeling the loss of a loved one during the holidays.

One heartfelt donation came from an unexpected source — a group of prison inmates.

“I was reading in the Des Moines Register about the break-In at the EveryStep warehouse,” says Robert*. “Saddened at such a heartless act, I decided the Lifer Organization of Fort Dodge Correctional Facility (FDCF) — a group of inmates serving life sentences for which I serve in a leadership role —would donate to help replace the Cheer Boxes lost in this break-In.”

The Lifer Organization and a handful of other groups within FDCF involve themselves in fundraising efforts with the inmate population throughout the year and 75% of the proceeds go to charities.

EveryStep Donor Database specialist Barbara Pottorff was informed of the intended donation. She admits she was a bit surprised to learn of the source, but a phone call with Robert quickly dispelled her skepticism.

“Personally, Robert renewed my faith in humanity,” says Barbara. “I’ve never had contact like that with a prisoner or a felon, so talking with him opened my eyes to the possibility that prison reform really can happen. He led the charge to do something so selfless and good it made me cry.”

Robert, who was sentenced to life more than 30 years ago, says charitable work through the Lifers Organization is a way for inmates to try and bring something positive out of their incarceration. “Crime, at its core, is the most selfish act one human being can commit against another. That means criminals are inherently some of the most selfish people. To overcome that selfishness, we have to learn empathy. We have to discover the joy that comes from giving of our time, talents and resources in order to truly see the devastation that comes from a life of crime and victimization. As a leader amongst the inmate population, I try to educate as many around me as I can to that reality.”

Robert decided to reach out to other prison groups to donate as well, with a commitment by the Lifers Organization to match all donations the other groups provided. This resulted in the Spanish Affairs group donating $2,000 and the Growth Organization giving $750. With the Lifer Organization’s match, the donations totaled $5,500.

“Lifers often have a difficult time atoning for the crimes we committed. Instead, we must seek opportunities to pay it forward by impacting the lives of others in positive ways,” says Robert. “We want the world to see there is still humanity within these prisons and in the hearts of those residing within them. If our donations can help restore some faith in humanity for those who suffered the loss, all the better.”

After learning more about EveryStep and its many programs, ranging from Nine2Thrive™, which supports the healthy development of babies during pregnancy, to hospice support and services, the Lifers Organization decided to continue working with EveryStep, and has committed to donating $2,000 for EveryStep’s 2022 Adopt-A-Family holiday program. “This is a privilege for us to be a part of,” says Robert. “I'm glad we were in a position to help.”

To learn more about EveryStep and its programs, including Cheer Box and Adopt-A-Family, visit To financially support EveryStep’s programs, visit

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946. Or, complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.

*name has been changed