Monday, January 16, 2012

Tribute to Pat Fitzpatrick

Dear folks,

As most of you know, last night Pat Fitzpatrick received the Martin Luther King Hall of Fame Award for 2011. After Pat was chosen for this award, Commissioner Long asked me to write a tribute to Pat to be used at the banquet. I am reprinting it here.

Pat Fitzpatrick

I met Pat Fitzpatrick in 1995 when I was volunteering at St. Francis House and he was serving on the Board of Directors there. Unlike many board members, Pat was a ‘hands on’ guy who came to the shelter frequently to help out and to spend time with the clients. He has an almost magic ability to relate to people and immediately become their friend, no matter their social status or how many problems they have. He is always honest with people about the difficulties he has faced in life and never puts himself above anyone else.

In 2002 Pat was one of the founding members of the Home Van, a mobile soup kitchen and sort of ‘free convenience store on wheels’ that goes out to homeless areas in and around downtown Gainesville. I am from New England and, without Pat, I would have felt awkward and standoffish, not knowing how to connect with street people. I just watched Pat. He would walk up to anyone, clap them on the back, and say, “Hey Brother (or Sister) how ya doin’?” with his big, irresistable Irish smile. Thanks to him the Home Van got off to a good start with the homeless folks.

In the years since, Pat has been our rock. There is nothing he won’t do – no matter how difficult or inconvenient, to help out another human being. That first winter of the Home Van was brutally cold. Now there are quite a few church groups who go out on cold nights with blankets, but in the winter of 2002-2003 we were, to the best of my knowledge, the only one. On bitter cold nights, in between our official driveouts, Pat and I would drive around with a load of blankets and two gallons of hot chocolate and look for people who were not in cold night shelter. We would literally be standing at the edge of the little wooded area across from Suwanee Swifty on South Main Street calling, “Arthur? Are you in there? Do you need another blanket? We have some hot chocolate.” Arthur, an elderly veteran, would invite us in, or maybe come hobbling out to see what we had for blankets. We would go all around the area, through parking lots, down alleys, behind dumpsters, finding folks who needed a little extra warmth.

We still go out on very cold nights. Also, we get calls about food emergencies. Someone who is staying in a motel, while receiving cancer treatments at Shands, has run out of food. I call Pat and he comes and picks up a bag of groceries. Just recently, he walked through the woods with me on a cold, rainy day to check up on a homeless man who has sickle cell anemia and bring him some desperately needed bottled water. When someone needs help, Pat is never too busy or too tired (even if he is) and it doesn’t matter how cold or how hot it is – he is always available.

I don’t know what we would do without him!

Arupa Freeman
Home Van

Saturday, January 7, 2012



I want to thank everyone for the best Home Van Christmas party we’ve ever had! Amazing stockings packed with practical gifts, Christmas luxuries and objects of beauty. Home made cookies, oranges, Santa Claus making the rounds, and the Jazz Bandits playing Christmas carols, belted out by their lead singer, Khali Blount, in a Santa hat. The East Side Jazz Band has changed their name to the Jazz Bandits and they’re terrific. They frequently play Lightnin’ Salvage (behind Satchells).

Last year’s party was chaotic because I asked everyone to bring their stockings to the green van. That was the first year we had asked people to bring their stockings downtown on the night of the party, rather than dropping them off beforehand. I was in a neurotic sweat about whether we’d have enough stockings so I wanted to be in control of the situation to make sure everyone got at least one. We ended up with hundreds of stockings and a giant traffic jam. This year I trusted our beloved Home Van angels and told people they could give out their own stockings. We were out in the woods a little longer than we expected to be, so we got downtown late. I was in another neurotic state about innocent donators milling around in confusion, waiting for my great organizational genius (snort) to arrive on the scene. Well, we pulled in and you folks had set up a line of boxes filled with stockings and people were filing by. Grandmas and little kids were circulating with plates of cookies, and others with bags of oranges. Santa was making his rounds and the band was playing. Perle Mesta herself couldn’t orchestrated a better party.

The homeless folks had a really good time. They are always polite at our events and at least pretend to be having a good time, but you can tell the real thing – they were enjoying themselves.


One reason we go out to the woods, a reason as important as the food we bring, is that every once awhile we get a chance to pull someone’s bacon out of the fire. Such was the case with Aaron, who moved into the Williston Road Camp last summer. He is in his early twenties, soft spoken, and obviously very well educated. He always came to the van immaculate and well-dressed. A few weeks ago he showed up looking very, very ill. Anna Hall, one of our pharmacists, has connected with Aaron, who is shy, and she was able to find out that he has sickle cell anemia - and a few other tidbits of information – that he is fluent in English, French and Spanish and close to achieving a Bachelor’s Degree. Anna asked us to get Aaron to the hospital. Pat and I went out there and we reasoned and begged and manipulated and threatened – the full range – and he would not budge. The next day Khali, who is an RN as well as a lead singer, went out with us and he had the mojo to get Aaron to the hospital. He sat in the emergency room with him for five hours. When he finally saw a doctor he was immediately admitted. In addition to Sickle Cell he had pneumonia and a serious infection. When he got out of the hospital he admitted that he has a family in Miami who would be happy to have him back. Freeman put him on the Red Coach along with his lap top and books on philosophy. He emailed me when he got there to say that he is safe and healthy and happy and he thanked all of us for saving his life.

I don’t know how Aaron ended up in the woods and probably I never will. Maybe he was running away from something. Or maybe, because he is so young and so outside the box in his thinking and his sensibilities, he decided, like young Henry David Thoreau, to take up life in the woods. Maybe he will write a book about it.


Dan wanted me to thank you all for the outpouring of help. He got a fine bicycle, a lock, helmet and reflective vest, a brand new dress shirt for job interviews, and several offers of yard work. He carried out those assignments and is now planning to go to Ocala and file job applications there. He is a determined young guy and I expect him to pull himself out of this hole, with a little help from his friends.


The entrance to the Williston Road camp had turned into continuous heaps of garbage, some left by campers they were glad to see move on, and some dumped by members of the housed community looking to avoid paying dumping fees. The folks requested a dumpster and bags for a big cleanup. Joe Jackson has pull over at Solid Waste Management (as one of the homeless guys said, “He has high friends in low places”) so he got a construction dumpster delivered out there and we got a case of bags from Sam’s Club and they cleaned that woods up so it’s like an illustration from a nature magazine.

Happy New Year Folks, and love and blessings to all of you.

The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, creamy peanut butter, jelly, candles, white tube socks, batteries books, games, personal hygiene supplies. Call 352-372-4825 to arrange for drop off. Financial donations to the Home Van should be in the form of checks made out to Citizens for Social Justice, Inc., earmarked for the Home Van, and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601, or can be made online at