By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer


Scrumptious aromas accompanied the spread of food laid out for Sarah Bradford, her family, and other guests at Reba’s Ranch House on Thanksgiving Day 2019. When the staff invited Sarah to sign up for the communal meal, she had no idea it was going to be an actual Thanksgiving dinner in the midst of their family’s health crisis. There was an abundance of turkey, ham, dressing, and all the trimmings.

Having to spend the holiday away from home in order to be near their loved one at the hospital was strenuous, but it turned out to be a real family and friends Thanksgiving for Sarah, her two teens, and mother-in-law, Shirley.

When Sarah’s sister-in-law, Kelli, was admitted into a Texas hospital with pneumonia in October, a series of trips began for the family. 77-year-old Shirley started making the eight-hour one-way drive from Arkansas to be with her daughter, Kelli, as much as possible. The family alternated stays in different hotels — some of them dicey. Sarah was constantly concerned about her mother-in-law’s safety, finances, and the lonely drive. Shirley was exhausted and had run out of money for hotels. 

But in November, their caseworker shared about the option of staying at Reba’s Ranch House. Shirley would have been forced to drive back-and-forth to Arkansas at least four more times had she not stayed at the house.

“I never knew something like this even existed,” Sarah says. “Every day, someone would bring food and donate it, mostly from churches. When I was not there, I felt so much better knowing Shirley was being taken care of. She literally would not have a dime left if she had to pay for all that. Plus she made friends and they were able to comfort each other. It just made it so much easier on her.”

On Thanksgiving weekend, Kelli faced a tracheotomy. Sarah and her 16-year-old daughter Annie and 14-year-old son Asa made the urgent trip from Arkansas to be with Kelli and Shirley. They likely could not have made the trip without the option to stay at Reba’s Ranch House.

“We had already been down there several times, and spent a lot of money,” Sarah says. 

The four of them bundled into one of the rooms at Reba’s Ranch House with a queen bed that Shirley and Asa shared. Staff members brought in two cots. The family had fun pushing them together at the end of the large bed for Sarah and Annie.

Kelli was not doing well that stormy weekend. It was emotionally draining for them all, especially Sarah’s teens as they watched over their aunt. But Kelli took a turn for the better after the visit. She didn’t need the tracheotomy.

“We stayed with her for four days,” Sarah says. “She couldn’t talk on the phone, so us being there lifted her spirits and helped her get through it. I really, really believe that. She was so sick.”

The family experienced a real Thanksgiving at Reba’s Ranch House, a place Sarah believes helped save Kelli’s life.