Sunday, June 12, 2016


Dear friends,
Sorry for the long silence.  I have been dealing with boring, time-consuming, but very non-lethal medical stuff (just part of being 70 I guess), as well as an unexpectedly enormous response to our Food Pantry.  I now have three volunteers working with me, Liz, Marie, and Reggie, many thanks to all three of you - as well as major assistance from Peggy toward the end of the month.  She brings in, among other things, her signature sandwich and cookies spread, which is extremely popular.  . I have no doubts that this service is needed.  People walk through 95 degree heat and through thunderstorms and then stand in line to receive their bags of food, meds, and candles.  This past Wednesday we had 115 participants.   We totally feel like the Home Van again, except the people are coming to us.  Many of those who come are real heartbreakers - pregnant women, elderly people, people in wheelchairs.  As the old timers back in Vermont said so often, "I don't know what this world is coming to." 
Although we are a food pantry for homeless people, we make a few exceptions, mainly for veterans.  The VA social workers have become aware of us and they send veterans, many of then newly housed and getting back on their feet, to us for food.  Also there are a few very old people from my neighborhood who come here for food. 
Before I go any further, I would like to say to my many friends in the LGBT community - my thoughts, my prayers, my love - are with you.  The massacre in Orlando beggars any words I can come up with except these - we all need to become more loving people in any way we can.  We need to increase the amount of love and peace in the collective consciousness, and we can only do it one person at a time.
THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO OUR GO FUND ME SITE!  We now have $1035 in our account.  Our goal is two thousand dollars (40 tents). 
I do not know the person who was shot out at the Sweetwater Branch community, at least by name.  It bothers me that perpetrators in the homeless community are identified, by the media, according to their housing status, and I hope this practice will eventually be outlawed.  It reminds me of the 1950s and early 60s when only African American suspects were identified by race.  In other words, if two people, one white one black, robbed banks, the subsequent headlines would read:  "Man robs bank," and "Negro man robs bank."  It took legal action to stop this practice.  Domestic violence tragedies happen in all communities and neighborhoods, housed and un-housed, so this sad news will not, I hope, lead to a call to evict the Sweetwater Branch Tent Community.  It is one of the oldest and most stable homeless neighborhoods in the city. 
I am also very sad that Fredo's dog Cha Cha was shot.  She was a very sweet dog, and she was Fredo's family.  I know that it is very frightening and potentially dangerous to be charged by a strange dog, but I have to wonder if pepper spray would not be a viable alternative.  I had a rescue dog, years ago, who turned out to have one major flaw:  He was dedicated to biting everyone except us.  He got out once and the mailman pepper-sprayed him and it worked very well.
Many thanks to all of you who are supporting us with food and money and useful items like tents and candles.  Blessings on you.  I am more than a day late and a dollar short in acknowledging all that you do for us, but know that I thank God for you every day.

Monday, January 18, 2016


  From Martin Luther King, Jr.:  
Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle... (or) Einstein's Theory of Relativity ... (or) the Second Theory of Thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

When I down-sized the Home Van to a food pantry, I imagined that I would be filling a small but needed niche in Gainesville's services.  I knew the old loners and curmurdgeons who had been my friends and customers for years would not be moving to Grace.   I knew there were a fair number of people with mental illness who find it difficult if not impossible to leave their comfort zone, and of course there would be some who, as the old Vermonters would say, were just 'agin it.'  These folks would need a small service center.  It was like that for the first few weeks.  Since then the number of people who come to us for  help, and the range of things they need, have continued to rise week by week. 
Some people tried out living at Dignity Village or Grace and found out that they didn't like a living situation that involved rules and supervision.   It wasn't that they wanted to run wild and see how many social norms they could shatter.  It was more that it  made them feel like they'd moved back in with their parents, so they left.  Others left because they got into trouble - not big time, go to jail trouble, but enough trouble to be restricted from Dignity and Grace for a certain amount of time.  When services were scattered about in the community, if you got into trouble at one agency, you could go to another for help.  With all the agencies concentrated in one location behind a fence, you get restricted from everywhere - and that is a real problem.  For example, you get restricted for getting into a fist fight, a fist fight that did not result in anyone needing medical attention.  No one should be handing out awards for getting into a fist fight, but a restriction should not involve little or no access to food or blankets and such, in January.  Theresa and Jon are aware of this and it is one of the many things that have to be worked out - how do you maintain order and at the same time avoid unjust levels of hardship.  It is not easy.  Fortunately there are volunteers from the community also working on this problem.  Grace Marketplace and Dignity Village are evolving projects that we can all support in one way or another and they will only get better. 
So, as people drift back downtown, there are few resources available to them down here, and my food pantry is one of them.  I am officially open on Wednesday afternoons, but reasonable people (e.g., those who come by during the day time hours and ring the bell once or twice and leave if I am not home or available (as opposed to those who ring the bell 47 times), can come by if they need an aspirin or a mylar blanket.  It still works but it is a larger challenge than I had expected.  Giving people tents so they can establish campsites is ideal, and the city may need to give more support to such a  plan on this end of town.  The Sweetwater Branch tent community has been a stable, self-governed living area for many years, so it is a feasible idea.  Hiring social workers to work one-on-one with people in need of mental health care would surely be not only a more compassionate strategy, but also a less expensive strategy than hauling people off to jail or the ER on a regular basis.  When Howard Dean was governor of Vermont, he added up all the money being spent on homeless services, jail time, and emergency medical care, and then added up how much it would cost to give everyone a place to live.  The second plan - give everyone a place to live - was MUCH CHEAPER! 
To get back to my food pantry - food donations are greatly needed!  Almost everyone's favorite foods are Vienna sausages, Ramen soup and peanut butter.   Chef Boyardee and chunky soups are popular.  With the help of my friend Cheryl, and the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, I always have a lot of boiled eggs - people love getting them.  I do need granola bars and protein shakes.  The granola bars, if possible, should be soft to chew.    Over the counter medications and batteries, especially double and triple A batteries, are also needed.  I do not need my mylar blankets  - I have enough to last to spring.  I also have a lot of personal hygiene products and need only razors and deodorant.
It is my sense that life has a kind of uncertain quality to it these days - so much in flux, so many question marks.  I wonder how many people feel that way?  The solution, I've discovered, is to life life one day at a time.  Despite being Irish, and being a poet, due to some genetic miracle I'm not an alcoholic.  Nevertheless, Bill W. and Dr. Bob are heros to me - the idea of "one day at a time" is the answer to almost everything.
If you would like to make a financial donation to the Home Van food bank, the check should be made out to Citizens for Social Justice and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL  32601.  To arrange for a drop-off of supplies call  352-372-4825.  And, as the old timers know, I have my take-in window.
love and blessings to everyone,

Saturday, December 19, 2015


I hadn't planned to write to you all again before the holidays, but this story must be shared. 
Yesterday I heard a gentle tapping on my front door.  I went to my take out window and there was an old black man standing on my porch steps, someone I had never seen before.  He needed some food and cold weather gear, which I was fortunate to have.  There was something special about this old man - I had no idea what it was but I could sense it strongly.  He told me he was a Vietnam vet who had run into some trouble down at the Lake City VA and came here hoping for better luck.  I gave him Bridget Fitzgerald's card, telling him that she is not a bureaucrat and has worked her way through bigger kerfluffles than his to get vets into housing. 
Then, at some point, he told me that he had been a blues musician most of his life.  He began talking about the gigs he'd played and he lit up with with such joy and such amazing descriptions of the concerts, the music, the instruments, the riffs...  I literally felt like I was listening to someone who had walked out of history, like Blind Lemon or Muddy Waters.   Then I remembered that more than ten years ago I found a really nice harmonica in a box of donations and put it aside, thinking that someone would come along who wanted it.  I told  him to wait a minute, I had something he might want.  I showed him that harmonica.  I don't think I have ever seen a bigger smile or more joyful eyes on a human face than his when he reached through and took that harmonica!  It was really something. 
 I hope I see him again sometime, maybe in a concert.
Happy happy to one and all!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


The Spirit of Grace Celebration out on 39th Avenue could not have been more beautiful and hopeful.  Grace continues to thrive.  The 131 Dining Hall is really, really nice - painted in bright, cheerful colors, commodious, and well-appointed.  Freeman slipped in and left the official Home Van soup pot, with two ladles, in the kitchen.  It is a five-gallon restaurant-grade pot that cost the proverbial 'arm and a leg,' and shows little if any wear after its 10 years of service with us.  It is good to think this pot will continue to bubble with good food for our homeless friends.  I was very pleased that Commissioner Randy
Wells won the Spirit of Grace Award.  Without his long and patient negotiations with the State, and other efforts he made, it is unlikely that Grace would be there, so the award could not have gone to a more deserving person.
At our end of town, the Home Van food pantry is serving a vital function for the homeless and marginally-housed people who remain in the downtown area, especially now that the Salvation Army has ceased providing an evening meal.  I have had many conversations with homeless people, encouraging them to move to Dignity Village and take advantage of the many services available at Grace - good food, clothing, medical care, job training, AA meetings etc. etc.  We have worked steadily to provide tents for people moving to Dignity.  I will not, however, participate in any strategy to starve people into submission to moving out there - not now, not ever.  As I have mentioned before, some of our customers do have a roof over their heads, but no money left to buy food.  Some cannot make that move to Dignity because of mental illness - they have to stay in their comfort zone and it would take one-on-one work with a social worker to change that.  And some are stubborn old geezers who just don't want to.  We will provide them with as much supplemental food as we can as long as they are down here.   And as long as you, our extended family, make it possible for us to do so.  Without your love and generosity we would not exist.
It is a great luxury to be working for a small mission rather than an agency, because there is the time needed to talk to people. Our local agencies do so much for so many people.   I have sat behind the front counter of an agency and had to answer the phone 10 times an hour, with people standing in line in front of me for other services.  There is little if any time for long conversations.  When people call here I may or may not be able to give them what they need, but I can talk to them, and  help them process what they are going through and, sometimes, in the course of that conversation, we noodle our way through to a strategy that might actually work.  Last week I had a 20 minute conversation with a very young mother with a toddler and a newborn.  Her partner had split town leaving her with an unpaid and fairly sizeable GRU bill and her utilities were due to be cut off the next morning.  She had some hope that he might return the next day and pay GRU.  She says he has left before when the stress of babies and bills got to be too much for him, but has always come back.  But what if he doesn't?  What is she going to do?  In the course of our conversation my brain came up with a couple more places she might go to for assistance, and I also told her that, if all else failed, we could keep her supplied with candles and bottled water.  I think something worked out because I haven't heard from her again.  The great thing is that I could talk to her. She needed to talk.  A lot of people need, as much as anything else, someone to listen to them.  I'm so glad to be able to do that. 
Liz McCulloch, my co-conspirator at our food pantry, also spends time talking to customers.  She gives out meds, candles and other miscellaneous items while I pack bags, and often finds out that this person needs a pair of work shoes or a severely disabled person needs a tent.  Liz  uses her resources to meet special needs. 
Our special needs right now are Triple A batteries, small jars of peanut butter, and diabetic food such as Glucerna bars, Glucerna Shakes, and sugar and corn syrup-free canned meats. Fresh fruit is also something we could use more of, particularly oranges, and vitamins, including Vitamin C.
Love and peace to all of you,
e Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, food for people who don’t have kitchens
, candles and batteries. 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

Sunday, October 4, 2015


The Home Van Food Pantry is doing a very large business as things continue to go badly, both in terms of the economy and the access to food in the downtown area.  The Salvation Army has stopped serving dinner except on Fridays and is planning to drop meal services all together at the end of the year.  There are also people coming down from Dignity Village to receive food, since the kitchen at Grace is not yet operational.  Although we are a food pantry for homeless people, some elderly people who have (thank God) a roof over their heads but not much else, are also coming to receive food. We do not discriminate.   Some people would like to be going to Grace for meals but they've lost their bus pass (as you may recall, the city gave out permanent bus passes to homeless people earlier this year).  They have been told that bus passes can't be replaced.  It is  hard to keep track of one's belongings living of the streets (it's hard enough living inside, as I've discovered), and one's belongings are much more likely to be stolen if you're homeless.  There is also the photo ID problem.  If you lose your photo ID you cannot get service at a food pantry or many other places.  That is bureaucratic cruelty.   Under the Patriot Act photo IDs are very hard to get and even harder to replace.  Is our society really going to let people starve because they don't have the right pieces of paper?  Sounds to me like something out of Germany in the early 30s.  My Jewish friends often say that we must never forget history, particularly that history, because, among other things, it teaches the lesson that good people can be lulled, one step at a time, into unspeakable evil. 
We might need some civil disobedience.  I am dealing with an extremely boring but non-threatening ailment called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so I can't organize civil disobedience events or rallies at this time.  Maybe someone else could take this on.   "HEY HEY BUREAUCRATS, HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL YOU STARVE TODAY".  Well, surely one of you can come  up with something better than that.
In case anyone is wondering, yes, I am angry about all this.
Some of you may be wondering why we still have homeless people downtown.  There is the bus pass problem, the problem of people with mental illness who are afraid or unwilling to go outside their comfort zone, the old hermits who just don't want to, and others who for various reasons don't want to be way out on the edge of town.  I think Grace Market Place and Dignity Village are evolving into good places that will solve the problem of homelessness for many people, but in the meantime, everybody has to eat today and tomorrow and all the other days of the week.
In the meantime, I also have a lot of gratitude for the support so many of you are giving to to our little food pantry.   There are even elves who drop food through the hole in the screen and disappear! 
At this time, we are particularly in need of donations of small jars of creamy peanut butter. Chunky soups, canned meats, beenie weenies and anything Chef Boy Ardee are also much appreciated.
love and peace to all of you!
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, food for people who don’t have kitchens
, candles and batteries. 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

Sunday, August 16, 2015


The Home Van food pantry got off to a bumpy start because I was very low energy, and a lot of other things were going on, but we are now finding our stride, due in no small part to the fact that
Liz McCulloch is now working the Wednesday afternoon food pantry with me.  Liz brings a lot of expertise and good energy to any project she is involved in.  She deals with over-the-counter medications, candles, cold drinks and, of course, talking to people.  In any form of outreach, talking to people is an important part of it.  You make friends with your customers and have a chance to be involved in their lives in a positive way, as you discover small needs - huge and unobtainable to them - that you can fulfill.  I pack the bags.  I know the customers - who's diabetic, who's recovering from surgery, food allergies - that sort of thing.  Of course Liz is learning all that as well, so our roles are not cast in concrete.
A lot of our old guys love, love, love Vienna sausages - the more little cans you give them, the happier they are, and they do at least have protein.  So we will always feature God's lowly Vienna sausage at the Home Van.  However, I am finding great joy in trying to give out the best possible food we can - both in terms of nutrition and appeal, with the help of the food bank and our donators.  Almost every week we have fresh fruit, whole grain breads, cheese, chunky soups loaded with vegetables, Chef Boy Ardee, sardines (a healthy fish since they are small and contain little if any mercury), and protein shakes.  Lately we have been very low on peanut butter, so peanut butter (small jars, smooth not chunky) will be greatly appreciated.  We can also use more diabetic foods. 
Our other major needs are for batteries (double and triple A's and D's), and bug spray.  We hardly ever get donations of bug spray, due to the expense involved.  I understand that.  On the other hand, mosquitos are driving people stark, raving mad.  The first two people to bring me an entire box of bug spray will receive in return a painting by me. 
To arrange to drop off donations call me at 352-372-4825.  Financial donations should be made out to Citizens for Social Justice and mailed to 307 SE 6th St., G'ville  32601.  Online donations can be made by going to:
love and peace to everyone,

Friday, June 5, 2015


Dear Home Van friends,
I’m sorry to be so long in thanking you for the amazing outpouring of food and money for food when I requested help. ( My pilot light has been a little low since we ended the driveouts, but I’m on the mend.)  We have been able to feed everyone who has come to us.  The uptick in business at Bread of the Mighty Food Bank seems to be a permanent situation.  More and more people are in need of food assistance over the five-county area Bread of the Mighty serves, so your help makes all the difference.
The major surprise for me, when it comes to our food pantry, is that I am now meeting homeless children, very young homeless children.  We hear about them every year in the Point-in-Time Survey.   Roughly 600 children in Alachua County are homeless.  But I rarely met these children when we were driving out.  One young single  mother, B, became homeless with a four-year-old, after a horrific and totally unexpected family tragedy.  She came to Gainesville because she believed there was a person living here who would help her get back on her feet.  That turned out to be untrue and she found herself on the streets, for the first time in her life.  B is one of the most centered and courageous young women I’ve ever known.   She went to agencies and missions all over Gainesville, barking up every tree she could find.  When I met her she had lined up subsidized housing, subsidized daycare, and 15 job interviews.  I met her on  a Friday afternoon.  Her housing was going to become available on Monday, but in the meantime she was facing a rainy, stormy weekend with nowhere to go.  She went to a shelter and whoever she spoke with – staff member?  volunteer?  I have no idea.  In any case, this person told her that there was no bed available for her and that if she ever came back with her child, they would be obligated to call DCF and have her child taken.  Fortunately, some of our homeless friends overheard this conversation and gave her my name and address.  We put her up in a motel for the weekend with a bag of kid-friendly groceries.  She came back last week to tell me that she now has a job and things are going well.
Another young family, parents and a very young toddler, were actually living in a tent when they came here for food.  Nevertheless, their child was clean, well-dressed, healthy-looking and had a smile on his face.    With some help from us, they are moving into what I would term “marginal housing.”  It is not ideal, but a step up from a tent and they and their baby will be safe and dry.  One of the parents is working fulltime at a fast food restaurant and they are saving every penny they can to get for real housing soon.  The third young family had a very small baby with them.  Fortunately, this baby stays with relatives at night and is with them during the day.  They want a tent for themselves, to camp near where their baby is living, and have a place to keep their belongings and prepare for job interviews.  It is hard to get a job when you are living in a tent, and basically impossible when you are roaming the streets.  All these young families impressed me with their courage.  Thank God for cell phones.  I had each of them put our number into their cells.  I told them to call me when they need to, and assured them they can get food from us whenever they need it, not just on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
The other major group who comes here is very old men.  Most of them are the old hermits and mavericks who have always come here for services.  I talk to them about Dignity Village but they’re just not interested.  Some of them have been out in the woods since Vietnam and expect to live out their lives in the woods by themselves.  They are a remarkably cheerful lot and always say God Bless You!
I am hearing about Iraq veterans.  I had a long conversation yesterday with a young man who is not a veteran himself but says that most of his friends in the homeless community are.  He tells me that they are in very bad shape, psychologically, and he is doing what he can to help them.  I haven’t seen the VA social workers lately, but so far as I know they are still out there rounding people up for the HUD VASH program.  But there are always more.
Peace and love to everyone,
The Home Van needs tents, tarps, bottled water, Vienna sausages, food for people who don’t have kitchens
, candles and batteries. 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