Something for the Homeless (A memory)
When I was a kid, I managed a pizza/sub shop. There was a young boy, 9 yo, who showed up each evening around 8pm to sweep the floors in exchange for a pizza for his family (mom, dad & sis). Dad was disabled and could not work. Mom did laundry by hand, baby sat, sewed and any other “job” she could find.. often working 14-16 hrs a day… to cover rent on a 3 room shed (that my godfather rented to them for $9 p/wk + utilities) and the medications her husband needed.
This boy would not take charity. There were 2-3 other stores on the main street who gave him a dollar each night for sweeping and taking out the trash. He went home with a few dollars in his pocket and “dinner” each evening. At that time, it cost roughly 68 cents to make a cheese pizza that sold for $3.50. He was reluctant to take a dollar along with the pizza. When business was good, I slipped a few extra dollars into the pizza box.
My heart was heavy the day I left that job. New owners refused to continue the “tradition”. I can still see that little boy’s face when I told him there would be no more pizzas or dollars. I gave him an envelope with $100 to take home to his folks. It was sealed so he could not see what was inside. He was instructed to just hand it to his mother. There were two notes inside. One explaining what had happened and the other a letter of introduction that the boy was to take to a small breakfast & lunch shop a few blocks away owned by an old family friend. I had called Jimmy, the owner, in advance and he had promised to give the boy some work.
While I was working at that shop, I also used to make subs from the day old bread and meats/cheeses that had only a day or two before being dated. A few of the homeless who lived in cardboard boxes behind an old train station would wait at the shops delivery door for these subs. One, who I called “Pops” (his choice) used to take that sub to a nearby park and share it with the birds and a scruffy feral cat who lived in a hollow behind a music store abutting that park. I offered to give him an extra sub but he said one was enough. He could not eat very much, being sick. The cat and birds were happy for what he shared and that made him happy.
One horribly cold and blustery winter night, as I shoveled snow from the front of the shop, “Pops” appeared, looking very weak and pale. Though he protested, I stuck $50 into his pocket and prodded him to get a room at a dive hotel just up the street. He started to walk away and got as far as across the street where he fell into the snow bank and died. I’ve never forgotten that night.
The police used to roust the homeless behind the old train station, put all their shelters and belongings into a single dumpster and set them afire. This happened maybe every two months or so as a few of my friends and I would deposit bedding, blankets, boxes and whatever else we could gather behind that station right after the assaults. That station provided them a decent barrier against the weather. Eventually, the cops began to patrol nightly and forced these people to move on and out into the woods.
We weren’t rich, by any means, but we did what we could at the time. We were just kids from abusive homes living on our own. We did something. Never enough… but something.