Tag Archives: Homeless

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. ~Victor Borge

I loved opening up my front door yesterday and finding donations for the homeless sitting on my front porch.  For a moment it felt a little like Christmas morning as a child, it really did.  You don’t often find the Christmas spirit still lingering around Donationsafter December 25.  This time of year I’m often reminded of a quote that perfectly describes what happens on December 26 at 12:01 a.m.,

Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” ~K. Hubbard

Perhaps people really do have the Christmas spirit in them all year-long, we just need to help bring it out in each other during the ‘off season’.  I’ve been relentless in my quest to gather warm clothes for the homeless at Boutwell Auditorium, even setting up a FaceBook page:


I’ve made four trips downtown to the Boutwell since December 28, and each time my Tahoe was filled with blankets, sweaters, mittens and other winter necessities that you and I take for granted.  That wouldn’t have happened if I had just watched the news report about the homeless last Tuesday evening, thought to myself ‘those poor people, what will they do, it’s so cold outside’ and then changed the channel because it’s too depressing to watch.  I can’t quite explain it, but it was almost like a calling.  That’s the thing about me, I’m either in something 110% or not at all.  And watch out, because if the 110% side wins, I’m going to make it happen and if I can’t do it alone, I’m going to find ways to get the help I need.

The Boutwell opened it’s doors again last night at 6:00 pm for the homeless and I was looking forward to seeing my new friends, both the volunteers and the many homeless that I had grown so close to in such a short amount of time.  My mom came with me on this trip and everyone fell in love with her immediately. My mom has a very warm and gentle way about her and I wasn’t surprised at all when I saw her wrap her arm around a young woman who had fallen on hard times and needed someone to talk to. My mom loves to give hugs and these people need them.  So it’s a win-win.  WLaughterhen she wasn’t lending an ear and a shoulder, she & I had everyone laughing in the dinner line.   Mom was in charge of the chicken and I was in charge of the green beans.  Nothing to exciting about that.  But watching my mom trying to get chicken fingers on the dinner plates was quite entertaining.  My mom is a perfectionist and watching her morph into Martha Stewart in an effort to achieve the perfect placement of chicken on each plate, left her wide open for my smart ass comments.  Now, I had an audience, as many of the men in line were adding their own playful comments to mine, and in a matter of minutes,  the sound of laughter was heard throughout the dinner line.  It was a beautiful sound.  I read somewhere once that what soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.  That is so true.

When dinner was over and things settled down some, we opened up the donation room to let everyone find what they needed.  I expected some sort of chaotic ‘free for all”, with clothes flying everywhere, all the neat, folded piles of clothes left in shambles – but it wasn’t like that at all.  The women sorted through the clothes and picked out just what they needed, nothing more, nothing less.  When I offered a woman a blanket that was heavier than the one she had, she said she couldn’t accept it because she already had one.  I was somewhat surprised  that they didn’t grab all their arms could hold.  I heard comments between the women like, “I really like that sweater but its kinda big for me, here, you try it on” or “oooh, that hat is nice but I already have one.”  I had the best job during all of this, I got to hold baby Maleek.  He is just one year old and a ball of fire.  This is the baby boy my daughter and I shopped for last week.  His mama is in her early twenties and a very sweet young lady.  She and Maleek quickly found a special place in my heart and I found myself checking in on her many times last night.  My mom talked to her about going to one of the shelters that is for women and babies and this morning they had an appointment at one downtown.  As much as I hate to see them go, Maleek will now get the medical care he needs.

I spent most of yesterday baking cookies and muffins to bring to the Boutwell. When my daughter finally woke up yesterday, (she’s a teenager, the only people who sleep more than her are the dead)  the following discussion took place:

Gionna: Mom, what are you doing?

Me: Baking cookies and Banana muffins;

G: Let me guess, for the homeless?

Me: (laughing) Yes Gionna

G: That’s it! I’m going to go live on the streets so I can eat better.

*Guilt set in and I gave Gionna one banana muffin, but just ONE!

Sometimes it’s a little funny the things that bring people together.  After we served dinner to the homeless, I placed the baked goods on the tables and in just minutes they were gone.  One gentleman came up to me and asked if I had anymore banana muffins and I sadly told him that none were left.  He didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was deep in thought.  He stepped a little closer to me and began tobanana-muffins tell me how his wife, when she was alive, used to bake for the homeless and how the muffins I made reminded him of the wonderful smells that used to come from their kitchen.  He thanked me repeatedly for giving my time to the homeless and I replied by promising him that I would make more banana muffins and bring them on Friday when I returned.  Oh the smile on his face when I said those words.  I just want to take care of each and every one of them.  Since I can’t do that now, the very least I can do is bake for them.

I had two hours to myself today, which is very rare.  When my daughter came home from school, she watched my son so I could run a few errands and just get out of the house.  Since she had to be at work at 5:00, that meant I had to put a bounce in my step.  My first stop was the post office.  This is never a fun errand because I don’t enjoy opening my post office box to find bills that quite often can’t be paid.  But today was different.  In my post office box was a belated Christmas card – which I love to receive, I don’t care if it’s January or June, they make me smile.  There was also two keys in my box.  Now, keys mean that there is a package so large that it couldn’t fit in my box and I’d have to go get it out of a larger box.  Two keys meant there were probably quite a few IMAG1471-1boxes.  I actually jumped up and down a couple of times I was so excited – I know, goofy as hell doesn’t even begin to describe me.

I quickly walked to the front of the post office and behind door number 20 and door number 25 were a total of four boxes – and they were donations for the homeless from my friend in Georgia.  Delivered to my home earlier that day was another package from a friend in Ft. Payne filled with Winter essentials. I am now of the firm belief that people really do want to help, you just have to let them know what it is that they can do.  Even my daughter’s friends have gone through their closets and donated sweaters and coats.  This has all renewed my faith in humanity somewhat.  I love seeing people come together to help others.  There are also those that have told me how selfish and lazy the homeless are and while that is true of some, it’s not the case with any of the men and women I have met during the past week.  I’m proud to call each of them my friend and I’ll do whatever I can to help them.  It may just be a warm coat, a cup of coffee and a muffin, but I’ll be there.

So tomorrow evening I will return for another shift of volunteering, but I don’t think of it as work, not at all.  No, this is simply people helping each other out and there is amazing gratification and energy that comes from it.  So many in my community have helped my family, especially now that I’m a single mom , and it feels good to be the one giving instead of receiving.  “Pay it forward”.  That’s what many people have told me when they have helped me buy groceries or pay a bill that was overdue – so I guess that’s what I’m doing now.  International Pay It Forward Day isn’t until April 25, 2013, but I think every day we need to find a way to “Pay It Forward”.  This website has some great ideas on how you can do that:  http://payitforwardday.com/.


“How would your life be different if…You didn’t wait for someone else to fix a problem or social issue? Let today be the day…You take up a cause that you feel in your heart and give your time and efforts towards that cause.”  ~S. Maraboli, The Power of One



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The book is called “Opportunity” and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

GodfatherCouponI have to admit, I felt a little ‘gangsta’ earlier today when I used an expired coupon at Walmart. $1.00 off of Huggies Baby Wipes – you just can’t throw that kind of coupon away people!  Yes, it expired December 31, 2011 – but I know the suits at Kimberly-Clark would have wanted me to save that $1.00 because it’s the season of giving damn’t!   Not only is this mama sexy & sassy, she is living on the edge in the secret underground society of Clandestine Coupon-ing.

And that’s probably as exciting as my New Year’s Eve is going to get.  I’m really quite ‘ok’ with that.  For the past three years, my New Year’s Eve Celebrations involved dancing until 3:00 a.m. in stilettos that people are still talking about.  I realize I’m letting my fan base down and there’s a little black dress that I would love to take out tonight, but this year, I have a date with a very handsome  Sicilian who captured my heart over eight years ago, my little boy, Joey. We’re going to ring in the new year watching old Christmas movies in our favorite pajamas and he will most definitely be my first kiss at midnight.  Get in line ladies, this one is all mine!

So what are your New Year’s Eve traditions?  There is one, and only one, that I have adhered to for almost two decades now.  Being Italian/Sicilian, our culture is rich in traditions, many of them bordering on ludicrous.  However, some I follow like they came straight out of the Bible (although, I’m sure this one didn’t).  Every New Year’s Eve I make sure I’m wearing my red “unmentionables”.  Yes, you read that right.  On New Year’s Eve, you don’t want to forget to wear your red underwear to ring in the new year!  Italian tradition says that will bring you luck in the coming year.  Whatever you do, do not eat  lobsters (because they move backwards) and stay away from chicken (because they scratch in reverse).  Eating those on New Year’s Day may cause a reversal of fortune.  Of course, the fiscal cliff along with our current administration has left most of us without any fortune to speak of so just put on those red boxers and go grab a chicken leg!

If you read my last post, then you know that I have become quite passionate about helping the homeless.  The city of Birmingham has opened up the Boutwell Auditorium as a warming center and they will re-open on January 2, 2013.  After spending three days there last week, I cannot wait to return, although, I wish there wasn’t a reason for me to. This past Saturday night I stayed there until almost midnight just talking with these men from all different walks of life.  At their very core, they are no different from most of us.  They want someone to talk to, someone to listen.  That is all.  There was a group of five of us sitting in a circle and we just talked about anything and everything – children, jobs, how much times have changed…sometimes there were tears but mostly there was laughter.  I can honestly say that I can’t wait to return in a couple of days to talk with them again.  They always thank me when I leave and ask if I’m going to return, but really,  it’s me that should thank them.   If you live in the Birmingham area, please consider dropping by to volunteer or donate items.  I’ve set up a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/402550073160348/?group_id=0 that explains more.

So this is it.  The final day of 2012.  The Mayans were wrong, and it wasn’t the end of the world.  We’re all looking back on a year that is about to become a page for the history books.  I hope you can recall at least a few happy moments and I’m sure there were some that were not so happy as well.  For my family, the past year was a living hell but my sense of humor seems to keep me going along with a few close friends and my mom & dad.  No, I’m not going to elaborate more than that right now.  One day soon, you will be able to read about every last detail in my book.  But right now, one of my favorite songs just came on the radio,  “Same Old Lang Syne”, by Dan Fogelberg.  That song takes me back to so many places, all of them happy, simpler and calm.  I have always wondered if that song was based on actual experience and I recently learned that it was.


I had a feeling it was personal, you just can’t write lyrics like that without having experienced them.

dan_fogelberg180“We drank a toast to innocence, We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.
She said she’d married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn’t like to lie.”

This is really going to sound cheesy, but almost all of his songs, at one time or another, were like a soundtrack to my life.  Dan passed away five years ago this month and I have yet to come across anyone with a voice as gentle as his.

My daughter and her friends are eagerly awaiting midnight to ring in the new year.  I’m staying up as well, but for a different reason.  I want to make damn sure the old year leaves!   I hope the coming year brings you all that you wish for and may all your troubles last as long as your New Year Resolutions.

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“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” ~J. Holmes

My first day volunteering at Boutwell Auditorium was eye-opening, but yesterday – yesterday was moving and at times almost spiritual.  I arrived a little after 4:00 p.m. and while disappointed I didn’t have more donations to offer (yes, that was my first attempt at a subtle guilt trip, you guys need to step up) I planned on staying as long as they needed me to and hoped that would be an acceptable trade, albeit maybe not an adequate one, for my lack of donations. (Remember, I’m Catholic, I can give a guilt trip that would make the Pope cry).

When I arrived, I immediately had this feeling of ‘belonging’ and it’s a feeling I’ve missed.  Being a part of something like this changes a person – for the better.  I’ve donated items before, helped feed the homeless for one night, spent an afternoon organizing donations at a local shelter, but when you spend ten consecutive hours getting to know these people, listen to their stories, see the look of surprise on their faces when you hold their hand as you walk with them to the donation room, that is something that changes you.  It’s a powerful and wonderful feeling knowing that you are making a difference in a person’s life.  One gentleman, his name is Walter – helped me unload blankets out of my car yesterday.  While we were doing that, he kept apologizing for his appearance.  He went on to tell me how he used to look ‘real nice, all day long’ and that one day soon he would again.  Walter has a job interview this morning and you may remember yesterday in my post, I wrote about the man who needed size 11 shoes.  I was unable to get them donated and while I was feeling a little disappointed about not having them, now I knew I had to get them before the end of the evening.  I told Walter I understood about wanting to look your best and how we only get one chance at making a first impression.  The sweetest smile appeared on his face, and he sheepishly said, ‘Miss Roseanna, I bet you always leave an impression –  I replied, ‘honey, you have no idea!’

Once inside, we began setting up to let the homeless in.   I giggled to myself when they asked if I would help with the coffee – it’s like they knew I have some sort of primal connection to the all mighty coffee bean.  About this time, the homeless began to line up outside.  First there were maybe 20 and within minutes the line was down the street and the next time I checked, the line wrapped around the building.  I know there are rules, but I wanted so badly to open the doors and let them all in.  It was cold and it was raining.  The director said we had to wait until 5:30 – but he didn’t see the mama with the baby.  I’m not sure how it happened, it’s all a blur, but that mama and her baby boy were able to come in from the rain before the doors officially opened – that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Finally the doors opened and I’ve never seen people so happy to come inside and be handed a cup of coffee.  There were so many more than the night before.  I handed one lady a cup of coffee and she put her hands around my hands and said ‘bless you’.  It would be the first of many times during the evening that I would fight like hell to hold back tears.  While all this was going on, the head of the program asked me if I would like to participate in an ‘extra-curricular’ activity.  Anyone else probably would have asked for details, but my personality is more of a, ‘say hell yes now, ask questions later’ type.  Before I knew it, I, along with two other volunteers, one who was a dead ringer for Aretha Franklin, and a gentleman who looked just like “Bookman” from ‘Good Times’, were each driving a 15 passenger van to the BJCC.  It was dark, it was raining, I’ve never driven a vehicle that size before and I don’t know that part of downtown at all, especially at night.  But I had to laugh at how I seem to always end up in the most precarious of situations.  At one point, “Aretha” was in the van with me and the other vans were following us.  All of a sudden we see flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror and this woman starts singing…and what does she sing…”Chain of Fools”, by Aretha Franklin!  I was laughing so hard I could barely catch my breath.  The police weren’t chasing us, although a chain of white vans following each other through questionable parts of downtown had to look a little shady.

Back at the shelter, I began sorting through the piles of clothing donations and once again was shocked at what some people thought the homeless needed.  The temperatures are in the 30’s, a sequined tank top isn’t going to be of much use to anyone.  One by one, the homeless came in the donation room and we would help them find their sizes and give them what they needed for the night.  With plenty of help, I left for a few minutes to grab a cup of coffee.  As I walked through the lobby, I heard singing coming from the auditorium.  It was sweet and soulful.  I walked towards the singing and when I got to the top of the stairs,  I looked down and saw and heard the most beautiful thing.  As dinner was being served by a group of young college students, one of the homeless men started singing a gospel song and the college girls all joined in.  Slowly, other men joined in and it was the closest thing to hearing angels sing that I will probably ever encounter.  Their voices echoed through the auditorium and I felt like time was standing still, I couldn’t even move, I just stood there, listening to this amazing sound.  I was moved to tears.  These men have no place to call home, no family, everything they own is in a small box or back pack and they have smiles on their faces and are singing, praising the Lord.  You can’t experience this watching a three-minute news clip or reading an article in a newspaper (does anyone even do that anymore).  No, you have to be here, you have to see and hear it for yourself.  I could write a thousand more words trying to capture what happened last night, trying to convey to you how moving it was, but it wouldn’t come close to doing it justice.  I am blessed to have been a part of this.

Later that evening, Birmingham’s Mayor, William Bell, came by for aMayorBellwVolunteers visit.  I had only seen him on television and it was quite an honor to personally meet him.  I was impressed by how long he stayed, actually talking with everyone – the homeless, the volunteers, the city employees.  He seemed genuine and real, rare qualities for a politician.

Fortunately, there is only one child in our shelter, he is 18 months old and his mama might be in her early twenties.  I don’t know their story, I don’t ask, I only listen if they want to share.  But I had to ask her what her son needed because he looked as if he was sick and his clothes were old and unclean.  She didn’t say much but when I sat down next to her and put my arm around her she cried.  That’s all she needed to do.  Tears often speak louder than words and I understood each and every one. I calmed her down, made her a plate of food and told her the only way I could help her was if she told me what she needed.  She hesitated again but handed me her baby’s diaper bag.  In it was one diaper, a pacifier that should never be put in a baby’s mouth and a dirty blanket.  I lost it, she never saw, but the tears were pouring down my face and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop them. I finally pulled it together, the last thing she needs is me falling apart.   I told her my name and that I would be right back.  The desperation in her eyes seemed to say please don’t leave me.  I ran up the stairs and into our donation room, we didn’t have anything for babies – no diapers, clothes, nothing.  I felt so helpless. Without even giving it much thought, the next thing I knew I was driving through downtown looking for a store that sold baby items – there were none. I drove to another town and found a Wal-Mart, which I usually refer to as the 7th Circle of Hell, but let’s be honest, it is the only place you can buy diapers, spark plugs and Corn Flakes – all under one roof and they are always open.

I found all the necessities for this sweet baby boy and a few things that his mama might need.  Then I thought about the man who we weren’t able to give mittens to because we ran out and then there was Walter who needed shoes for his interview and the lady who was getting an unexpected visit from her ‘monthly visitor’.  And Tonya, she showed up barefoot and needed socks but we ran out of those as well.  It was all a little overwhelming.  But I had clothes on my back and a closet full of them at home, both my babies, ages 8 & 18, had what they needed, I had a home, central heating and a family that drives me bat shit crazy, but they love me.  I also had a Wal-Mart gift card that was given to me as a Christmas Gift by a friend.  That combined with some of my Christmas money could pay for all the things that I needed for everyone.  I had a new sense of joy knowing that I would be able to buy everything – but it ended quickly when I got to the register and was short about $25.  I put a few of the items back, feeling somewhat discouraged, but still happy that almost everything needed would be given to them shortly.  Besides, I had a back-up plan, this mama always has a back-up plan.  Her name is Gionna, she is my daughter, my sidekick and she always comes through when I need her to.   Through a series of text messages, Gionna knew what to buy and where to deliver them.  My sweet girl has been working after school since June and it made my heart so happy that she used her own money to help others and didn’t even think twice about it

Back at the shelter now, and waiting for my daughter, I went downstairs to visit this mama and her baby.  They were both laying together on a cot.  He was coughing and had a runny nose and his cheeks, chapped from the cold weather. I showed her everything I bought and told her I wish I could have done more.  She sat up and her body started shaking, she was so overcome with emotion.  She put her arms out and pulled me close – I’ve never been hugged like that before.  She looked at the clothes and blankets for her baby and ran her fingers over them like they were sewn with strands of gold – she was in awe.  She asked me why I did this, I just smiled.  I asked her if  I could hold her baby and she said yes.  I wanted to see how sick he was.  He had a fever, and there was some ‘rattling’ sounds in his chest.  I know plenty of home remedies to hopefully cure this so that will be my mission today when I return.

In just a little over an hour, Gionna had everything I asked her to buy and was at the shelter.  It was late and the lights had already been turned out in the auditorium but Gionna & I snuck down the stairs and found the mama with the baby.  They were still awake.  I wanted Gionna to see who she was helping.  Gionna had bought a teddy bear for the baby – something she did on her own.  The mama gave us a sleepy smile and I told her I would see her tomorrow.

Tonight is my last night.  In a few hours I will return and I will wonder if I will ever see these faces again.  God I hope so.  Some of their names I don’t know – but they all know my name, or they have given me a nickname.  One gentleman calls me “Beautiful”, another calls me “Smiley” and a young mother with a baby boy calls me, “Miss Angel”.  The shelter closes tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. and will open again on Wednesday.  My little boy comes home from visiting his father the day before but Gionna has already offered to watch him so I can return to help out at the shelter.  Gionna is my angel which allows me to be an angel, with a very crooked halo, to the homeless who have touched my heart in ways they may never know.


December 29, 2012 · 2:43 pm