27 December 2018

Needy Kids Have Homeless Man To Thank For Their Bicycles

One of the best-known non-profit organizations in the New York area started because a homeless woman died.

On Christmas Eve 1985, Metro North Police ejected the woman from Grand Central Terminal.  The temperature outside had fallen below the freezing mark and the woman, suffering with pneumonia, returned to the terminal--specifically, to an area that, at the time, wasn't enclosed--in the early hours of Christmas morning.  

She fell asleep on a bench and never woke up.

If you've been in the Terminal recently, you've seen a well-lit terminal that, even when it's jammed with rush-hour commuters, really earns the moniker "Grand" with its ceiling mural and sweeping staircases. But when the nameless homeless woman died there, the mural was covered with soot (mainly from tobacco smoke) and everything else was covered with filth or worse.  

When the "Jane Doe" lived and died there, a man named George McDonald--a garment-industry executive--was feeding homeless people and even got to know a few of them.  They all knew about the "Jane Doe"--whom they called "Mama" and alerted him to her death.

She spoke little English; later, it was determined that she was an Eastern European immigrant.  She seemed to know almost nobody besides the other homeless people who frequented the Terminal--and Mr. McDonald.

Her death led McDonald to a career change:  He would start the Doe Fund, which he still co-directs.  The organization's work includes career training (as well as transitional work), education and helping to provide housing so that people like "Jane Doe" can break cycles of poverty and homelessness--as well as addiction and other problems.

Although the woman's death was a tragedy, it at least led to something that might help others in her situation.  The Doe Fund doesn't perpetuate her name (at least not the one she had before it was forgotten), but at least it helps to provide some people what they need--and what she didn't have.

In Asheboro, North Carolina, the death of another homeless person has led to a charitable program.  It's not as big as the Doe Fund--at least, not yet.  Maybe it never will be as big because its scope is different.  But it's at least an attempt to help some people who have very little.  And it bears the name of the man whose death motivated it.

Gary Long

Gary Long was known to area residents who saw him riding his bicycle loaded with aluminum cans he was hauled to the recycler.  As poor as he was, area residents--including congregants of the West Asheboro Church of God, which he attended--saw him as a generous man.  Matt Gunter said of Long, "His heart was, 'If I had a million dollars, I would love to give kids bicycles.'"

His metaphor might have been a bit jumbled, but Gunter's intentions were good--and he acted on them.  He's the pastor of the church, and he appealed to congregants for monetary donations. 

They gave him enough to buy 12 bicycles, which were delivered to the Salvation Army for distribution to needy children.

Gunter says this donation won't be a one-time event:  He plans to repeat it next year and in years to come.

Pastor Matt Gunter (left) and Luis Viera (of the Salvation Army) with bicycles donated in name of Gary Long.

He is doing it in the name of Gary Long, a homeless man who died on 21 October.  At least Gunter knew his name--which is more than anyone knew about a woman who died in the bowels of Grand Central Terminal in the wee hours  of a Christmas morning 33 years ago.

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