I’m writing this on one of the coldest nights I’ve ever experienced. I’m sitting at the kitchen table encased in flannel pajamas, a fleece robe, earmuffs, a Chenille infinity scarf and two pairs of socks. Across my lap is a heated throw and a space heater buzzes industriously at my feet.
There are few things in life more demoralizing than being cold, really cold. I suddenly notice the beginnings of an arthritic shoulder joint. My toes seem to have developed a neuropathy and my asthma’s back.
The Swedes have a saying: Det finns inget daligt vader, bara daliga klader — there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.
The Swedes must be a very optimistic people. I’m bundled up like an Inuit grandmother and the weather still looks mighty bad to me.
Last Saturday, as TV weather forecasters trumpeted dire warnings of ice and sub-zero wind chill factors, I sat in my shop, doing a tidy business selling mittens and coats and wooly this-and-thats to people who were on their way to or from stocking up on the requisite milk, bread and toilet paper. In between sales, I looked around on the Internet, trying to find a simple design for a cat shelter.
Behind my shop lives a small colony of feral cats. We’ve developed something of a relationship built on mutual benefit and healthy distance. I feed them one meal a day and the rest of their diet is supplemented by restaurant dumpster diving and rodent control. It’s been a beneficial arrangement for all concerned, but as the temperatures plummeted, I worried that they wouldn’t have a proper place to take shelter.
My Googling came to an abrupt halt when it occurred to me that while I was obsessing about cats, there were local people facing much the same circumstances.
Underneath the Queen City Parkway bridge resides a small group of homeless people. Mostly men, it is a transient population — they move in, move on and sometimes move back. The sociology of this kind of extreme homelessness is the topic for books and symposiums, not an 800-word column and, bottom line, it didn’t matter why they were there, just that they were and the mercury was about to take a nosedive.
I remembered a Times article I’d read the previous summer that profiled a ministry serving this population. I pulled it up and saw that one of the organizers was Clint Anderson. I looked up his number and gave him a call.
Yes, he said, there were still people living under the bridge and no, it didn’t look like they would be leaving. I asked about their needs. He said the most urgent need was firewood, since their only source of warmth came from metal burn barrels. There was also a need for batteries and bottled water. I offered to try and locate some items. He told me he was going to the bridge late Sunday afternoon. If anyone would like to donate supplies they could meet him at a convenience store near the bridge at 3:45 p.m. that day.
I quickly typed out a Facebook post outlining the needs and, since the situation was both time-sensitive and urgent, I asked that readers “share” the post, clicking a button that allowed all of their contacts to see the request, too.
The response was rapid and miraculous. People read and shared. They pledged to bring supplies. Clint was deluged with calls. The post was shared over 350 times.
I had to work that Sunday but my husband went to the meet-up. He took warm socks and fleece blankets that were made and donated by the University of North Georgia’s Interfaith Alliance. I heard wonder in his voice when he phoned to tell me there was such a crowd that he had to wait for a parking space. There were trucks loaded with firewood, cars packed with supplies.
The next day, I messaged Clint’s wife, Amy, to find out how things were going. She answered, “The response was so incredible that right now I think the people have plenty of quilts, water... There is money for The Bridge in an account at the North Georgia Community Foundation. Several people from the community also made monetary donations Sunday.
I will keep you informed of future needs. Clint also has a list of people ready to bring firewood, etc. when they run out. As they say in Uganda, ‘God is good all the time. All the time God is good.’”
Yes, all the time.
An aside: This column runs on Jan. 10. That’s the day Arthur and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I’d like to use this very public space to wish a very private man all things wonderful and thank him for all the adventures to date and all the adventures yet to come. A native New Yorker, he has completely embraced Georgia and Hall County as his home. As he said, “I wasn’t born in the South but I got here as fast as I could.”
What’s not to love? Happy anniversary, Arthur.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.