PITTSBURG — Socks, deodorant, toothpaste and more were neatly piled along a table for people in need on Tuesday at The Lord’s Diner.
It was a story from a former student which compelled Pittsburg Community Middle School 8th grade English Language Arts Teacher Angela Lewis to collect these items and give them away for free to patrons at The Lord’s Diner.
Angela is not a new face at The Lord’s Diner, she volunteers once a month with a group called St. Teresa of Calcutta through Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
Angela, who has taught for over 23 years, was volunteering Wednesday, Sept. 26, when a former student — now 31 — came up to greet her as she always does, but this time the former student shared parts of her life story.
They visited at a table while Angela stopped for a break.
“I told her I really liked her dress and that she looked really pretty,” Angela said. “She told me she got the dress from the dumpster.
“Thus, my mission begins. She is homeless.”
She asked the former student if she would share her story about being homeless.
“I asked her what she carried in her backpack and she told me the important necessities,” Angela said. “She said if she leaves her belongings where she sleeps they will be stolen.”
Angela asked the former student where she slept and her answer was “various locations.” From there, the story about her life from middle school to age 31 was shared with Angela.
“At this point, I was no longer able to eat my dinner,” Angela said. “My heart ached for her and the homeless community … She explained to me some very disturbing things that happened to her in middle school and then told me she was suicidal during middle school.”
The former student was able to tell Angela more than her own story, she shared about the other people who were homeless at the diner.
“She would point to someone and tell me their story,” Angela said. “She said they know one another.”
She introduced Angela to a young lady who is pregnant with twins.
“I am a little partial to twins because I have twin daughters,” Angela said. “I asked the young lady when she is due, but she wasn't sure. My heart sank at that point.
“My former student kept introducing me to her friends and I listened to some of their stories as well.”
During their visit, Angela also discovered the difference she made in that student’s life.
“She said, ‘If it weren't for you, I would have committed suicide and it was because of you I finished high school,’” Angela said. “At this point, I could barely hold back the tears.
“But the story continued, terrible incident after terrible incident.
“After we parted ways, my mind was spinning on the best way to help the homeless and less fortunate.”
Angela said at this point, she knew she needed to get back to work, but the experience weighed on her mind.
“My Uncle Jim taught me, ‘If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean!’” she said, so she went back to work. “I never asked them what they needed the most.
“I began to realize why so many people bring in their backpacks. That's all they have. I knew I needed to buy essentials.”
That night, she started a GoFundMe page. The purpose of the page was to buy essentials for the patrons at The Lord's Diner.
“The night the GoFundMe page went live I received my first donation of $20,” Angela said. “I thought that was a great start. But nothing else was happening — until I received a phone call from an anonymous donor.”
That person donated $300.
Then Angela’s friend and colleague donated an additional $100, then another $20 and $50 was soon added to the pot. The total amount of donations was $480.
“I was at our parish auction Saturday night and a friend and parishioner gave me a check for $50,” she said. “Many of the people that donated said they were more than happy to donate, but weren't the best at organizing something like this. This works out great for me. I am a great organizer of events and am able to give in this manner.”
On Sunday, Angela and her mother, Paula Shaw, shopped for three hours and spent six hours more organizing everything.
They purchased: 50 pairs of men’s socks, 50 pairs of women’s socks, 155 washcloths with a razor, 47 bottles of shampoo, four cans of shaving cream, five boxes of Band-Aids, 42 boxes of toothpaste, 10 girl’s hats, 10 pairs of girl’s gloves, four pairs of men’s gloves, five brushes, four packages of wet wipes, one nail clipper set, five bottles of dish soap, 20 bottles of laundry detergent, 66 toothbrushes, four containers of dental floss, 28 bags of dental floss, 60 baby items, 59 combs, 10 packages of feminine products, forty packages of Kleenexes, 56 bottles of hand sanitizer, 28 washcloths, 90 bars of soap and 60 bottles of deodorant.
Angela praised her family for their giving character.
“My family is very giving,” she said. “I have had a lot of help from my family throughout my entire life.
“I am a very fortunate person and I know this.
“My mom, Paula Shaw and her husband Rick, helped with The Lord's Diner adventure. We do this because we want to.”
The items she provided were appreciated by the people who needed them.
“The men really liked the warm socks. That was a huge hit,” Angela said. “Another big hit was laundry detergent. Most of the people that dine are not homeless, so when my mom and I shopped for the items, we knew we needed to buy items intended for the homeless and people that are not.”
This is not Angela’s first act of giving. During the holidays she found a way to give students in need a special gift.
“In the years past, I did organize a 'stocking drive' for middle school students,” she said. “People donated a stocking filled with either girl or boy items and our school gave them to students in need.”
There’s usually around 150 stockings, which Angela said it is amazing to see Pittsburg come together and provide such a gift.
“Pittsburg is a great community to live in and has so many caring and generous people,” she said. “I no longer do the stocking drive because our school does a different program that is also amazing.
“There are many terrific, giving, caring, and generous teachers at our school. So many go above and beyond such as buying groceries for our students, mattresses, bikes, clothes, Christmas trees, and the list goes on.
“It's what teachers do,” she said. “I am just a small part of the giving tree in Pittsburg. Look around. It is all over.
“The giving hearts and generosity spreads like wildfire in Pittsburg. Keep your eyes open. You will see.
“It makes me feel like a better person to help others. I am trying to better myself daily. This is just a small step.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. To nominate someone for Patrick's People send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org