From the time we started distributing kits, we have talked to the people on the streets and listened to their stories. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve learned. On this page, we will share some of the stories we have heard, as well as the stories of our own experiences as we’ve distributed A Simple Thread kits.
Time passes as the hope fades
Thoughts of a better future are what feed me for days
Been too long since I’ve seen a calendar because I fear of age
The months, the years I’ve spent alone
As I call the cement floor my home
Home is where the heart is – home is a safe haven
But what happens when your heart has caved in
From so much pain and anger that you can no longer keep in
You pray for better
While your clothes get a little wetter
Your life’s now become fragile like a falling feather
Soup kitchens, maybe even washing dishes,
Seems to be the only way to get what you need
You ask and beg towards people on the street
But all they do is disregard and keep moving their feet
You never ask for much
But it’s the fakes out there that have ruined the human natures touch
Life has its ups and downs but you’re stuck
At the bottom of a lake
Please don’t drown but swim towards the sun
In search of brighter days
And jobs with salary pay
For you’ll be happy again no matter what people say
All you have to do is wait, pray, and you’ll be there
At that ultimate goal
All of us reaching for
But too scared to act for
One day…keep hope alive
Because one day is all it takes
To go from starvation to a belly full of pancakes
Leftovers in the fridge
Playing and running around with your kids
Just keep fighting, don’t give up easy
Just keep H-O-P-E A-L-I-V-E
– Donii Bright
Yesterday, we had a distribution focused on “tent cities” that have sprung up. The distribution went well. When we ran out of kits, and were getting back in our cars, a man walked up to us. We were about to tell him that we were out of kits when he said, “I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’ For eight months, I lived on this sidewalk.” He pointed and said, “Right there. That was my spot for eight months.” He went on to say that he now had found a job, has a place to live, and even has an old car. He said that he always appreciated our bags. He said, “I’m where I am now because you were out here then.” It was a very touching moment for all of us who were there.
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Thanks to Troy Chandler and the Chandler McNulty law firm, we were able to deliver 150 sleeping bags, as well as scarves, hats, gloves, and socks, directly into the hands of homeless Houstonians who needed them.
At the end of the night, we headed home with a few sleeping bags left. I started making quick stops when I would see two or three people huddled in makeshift beds on the street. I saw three guys sleeping on the concrete under an underpass. Two of them were in the sleeping bags they had gotten from us earlier in the evening. They were sound asleep. The third guy was sleeping on a thin piece of cardboard with a thinner blanket to cover him. I put a sleeping bag beside him and he opened his eyes. I quietly said, “It’s OK. I’m just giving you a sleeping bag” He raised his head a little, shaking off sleep, and said, “Are you real?” My favorite small moment of a wonderful night of giving so much warmth to so many.
Pop Up Distributions are always fun for us, but today’s Pop Up was one of the most meaningful distributions we’ve had. Jac Brennan and Natasha Faircloth distributed countless A Simple Thread kits to homeless women and children. We distributed boxes of children’s books, boxes of children’s kits, and boxes of women’s kits (many thanks to the sisterhood group at Congregation Beth Shalom in Montgomery for the women’s kits). When all the kits were gone, we scrambled to create more kits on the spot with other things we had in our cars. When we finally had emptied our cars of anything that could go into a kit, a teenage girl came over to ask if we had a brush. I told her no, but then remembered that I have a brush that I occasionally use, in my console. I gave it to her and I don’t think anything I could have done would have made her any happier at that moment. It meant so much to the women and the children to have these simple things.
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This is from our Vice President, Cathy Herrington Hale, about an experience she had as part of our distribution last night. A Simple Thread is so lucky to have a person with this kind of heart:
We set out to deliver our kits tonight in a good Texas thunderstorm. While we didn’t think we would see many people out and about, we found a gathering of folks underneath the bridge by Loaves and Fishes trying to stay dry. One women asked me incredulously “what are y’all doing out inthis weather?” Everyone seemed pleased we made the effort to deliver our kits of essentials and snacks to them on this stormy night. During the distribution, a woman started walking toward us and fell off the curb. Everyone rushed to help her and assess her injuries. She was hurt, wet and now crying. We learned that she intended to get to the Star of Hope by 730 check-in but was waiting out the rain. Now, she wouldn’t be able to walk the 4 blocks necessary even when the rain stopped. We had a few cars to transport her but they were filled with kits and boxes. So we called Uber. Grace, age 59, was going to travel in style. Everyone was super excited for her, and she remained humbly grateful for the ride. We followed her uber car and helped her into the shelter. I worried that tomorrow she would have to find some shoes, as her cloth house shoes were not holding up. The night left me drained and a little sad. But, at least for tonight, she would get a meal, dry off and maybe a good night’s sleep. Mission accomplished. A Simple Thread.
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From Kip Hall: Our distribution yesterday was a little “challenging” due to a lot of traffic and street closures downtown. BUT the homeless are always SO grateful. I feel fortunate to participate in helping! As we were handing out tacos, water, bug spray, etc., a man and his son rolled down their car window and told us that were doing a good thing and setting a good example. Awww, so nice. I felt very fortunate to lay my head down last night on a soft pillow in an air conditioned house.
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One guy came up to the car to get a kit. He said that he’s known me for years and that I always show up when he needs something the most. He said that the last time he saw me was a couple of weeks ago when it was one of those cold, rainy days and I was distributing containers of hot vegetable soup. He had been under the bridge that day because, although the police won’t generally let them sleep there, they are more willing to look the other way when it’s really cold and really rainy. He said that, just the day before, the police had come to the area and taken all their stuff, clearing out the people who were sleeping there. Apparently, if the people are there with their stuff, they can gather it and take it, but if they aren’t, then the police take it for trash. So anyway, the man told me that he had lost all his blankets and his extra clothes because he had been at the soup kitchen across the street when the police came. You cannot imagine the look on his face and the size of the smile when I said, “I’ve got you covered” and gave him a comforter that a neighbor of mine had donated just a couple of days earlier. I had it in the back of my car. It was a really good day.
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Five students from a local high school gathered up 25 jackets and we distributed them today, along with about 50 kits, 50 pairs of socks and a bunch of magazines. It was really good distribution in terms of people wanting to talk to us. One man told us that he’s been homeless for 8 months and he is trying so hard to find work. He talked about how hard it is to find work, with his background (I didn’t ask for details) and his lack of education, and then not having a home. He goes to a church where they let homeless people take showers twice a week. He said he tries to visit some church every day because there are so many ways to destroy your life when you’re on the street so he is hoping that just being in church every day will remind him of the benefits of being good. He says he wants to stay clean and out of trouble so that his daughter, who is a high school senior, will one day be proud of him. It was a good conversation with these high school students.
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Oh what a night! Our first shoe distribution! We handed out 177 pairs of shoes to homeless Houstonians, about half of whom are homeless veterans. Thanks to everyone who donated shoes and to our amazing volunteers who helped so many people find the perfect pair tonight.
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A Simple Thread received a cash donation of $5.60 today, along with this sweet note:
Each week I do chores around my house like feeding Gus and Doddle, putting away the silverware, setting the table, and cleaning up my toys. I earn a nickel for each chore I do, and my mommy and daddy have me save 5 percent of all of it to give to others and I get to pick who I give it to. This year, I chose A Simple Thread. I know it isn’t much, but I’m sure you can put it to good use.
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A small, dedicated group of volunteers showed up last night to deliver kits in the rain to more than 100 homeless Houstonians. We gave out kits, ice cold water, and brand new t-shirts and got lot of responses of “thank you,” “bless you,” and “stay in school” (to Omar, our youngest volunteer today).
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We distributed 125 kits to homeless Houstonians tonight. Cathy Hale & her crew put together some spur-of-the-moment kid kits because there were a lot of homeless kids out this evening. We handed out 20 McDonald’s gift cards, too — mostly to homeless veterans. Thanks to the many volunteers who came out to help tonight. You made life a little better for people living on the streets.
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A Simple Thread has distributed more than 15,000 kits in our four and a half years, and I learn something new every time I go out to help homeless Houstonians. A couple of weeks ago, Fruit of the Loom had a great sale on sweat pants and shirts, as well as knit boxers. I bought 50 of each in different sizes and distributed them this afternoon since it’s going to get pretty cold out there tonight. I went to the park to distribute them. I had 15 mediums, 15 larges, 15 XLs, and 5 XXL. The guys lined up and, one at a time, I asked their sizes. Every single one of them said XXL. I looked at the first guy and said, “Why do you want XXL? You are a medium.” He asked if he could please have XXL. Next guy, same thing. But when I asked the third guy why he was getting XXL, he said, “I know it’s way too big, but more material, more warmth.” As the guys lined up, asking for XXL, we went through all the XLs and then the larges, and in the end, all we had were mediums, which they gratefully took. Next time, I’ll just get all XXLs and XLs. Also, the boxers were a hit. They said over and over that they couldn’t remember the last time they had a pair of new underwear. One guy was in socks and said that his shoes were stolen while he slept near the park last night. I wished I’d had shoes to give him. Maybe next time.
From our President, Jacquie Brennan:
Last night’s distribution was eye-opening and heart-filling. We distributed 200 kits to men, 30 kits plus a whole lot of books to kids, and 30 kits to women. We ran out of kid kits and women’s kits long before we ran out of people wanting them. The kids were so excited to get the kits and they loved being able to pick out a book to keep and call their own. The kids were begging for a bottle of cold water and were thrilled that we had ice chests filled with them, thanks to two of our Board members. One elderly woman came up to thank us for the bananas. She said that, especially at her age, she needs the vitamins in fresh fruit, but of course, they never get fresh fruit at the shelter. She savored every bite. One of our volunteers got a bag to pick up some of the banana peels that kids dropped, but a homeless man took the bag from her and said, “No, let me take care of that.” The guys were most thrilled with the mosquito repellant. I can’t even imagine trying to sleep outside right now since I can barely make it from my house to my car without getting bitten.
Police came by, but at first, they didn’t talk to us. Instead, they handed out warning sheets about a new ordinance that says, “It is illegal to sit or lie down on a sidewalk in the East Downtown Management District area.” The ordinance says that it’s also illegal to put a stool, blanket, bag, or package on a sidewalk. So the officer was telling people who were sitting down to look at their kits or the kids sitting to look at their books that they had to get up and move. It was so bizarre to discover that people are not allowed to sit on a public sidewalk or to even put a package or bag that they’re carrying on a sidewalk. There are at least 12,000 Houstonians who are homeless. Where are they supposed to sit? There’s an ordinance against feeding them and now there’s an ordinance against sitting on a public sidewalk, too. I can’t imagine what’s next as Houston tries to get rid of the “eyesore” of homeless citizens, without actually helping them.
The officer eventually approached us, rather than just telling the homeless citizens to move. He said that we were part of the problem and that we were making things hard for HIM by being out there. We restrained ourselves from pointing out that at least he had a air conditioned car in which he could sit, unlike the people on the sidewalk. He also ominously warned that we were being videotaped. We are hoping the video of us handing out toothbrushes and lip balm and bananas and books goes viral.
Our small kits are such a simple way to help, and yet they mean so much to the people who get them. A Simple Thread won’t stop helping.
From one of our Board members, Melissa Wethe:
At the last stop on our distribution today, a man came over and took a kit. He was carrying a bundle of corn husks, which seemed odd to me. He approached me a few minutes later and asked if I had a box or bag in my car. I did so I opened the trunk and pulled out an old ratty grocery bag. He thanked me and walked away. As we were packing up to leave, he came over and asked if I had water or Gatorade or any liquid. I felt so bad because I didn’t. He just smiled and nodded and handed me a flower that he had made out of his corn husks. Then he walked away. As I watched him trudge away, I was heartbroken. I ran to the nearest gas station and bought the biggest bottle of water I could find. We drove back to where I had last seen the man and drove around for a minute until I spotted him. When I handed him that big bottle of Dasani he looked up at me and smiled so big, all the way up to his eyes, that I wanted to cry. Sad that I couldn’t do more, but happy that I found him and could make his day with such a simple thread.
From one of our Board members, Cathy Herrington:
I had volunteered to deliver kits to the homeless on many occasions prior to this night. I had even seen the small children who sleep on the streets or in shelters if they are lucky. But tonight I was struck by the sadness and the diffculty of it all. I looked and saw a small boy in a stroller with no shoes, no socks, shivering in the extremely cold night. His older sister was pushing him. We had distributed all of our kits that had socks, hats, snacks and medicine to over 90 people already. I had some baby socks in the car so I grabbed them and a small blanket. Unfortunately, it was all I had of my son’s things in my car. The baby boy stared at me with scared tired eyes as I put the little socks on him. He was so cold and maybe even sick. His mother was thankful but seemed worried and perplexed by what to do on such a cold night. The socks were too small and the blanket a little too silky for the boy to grip, but it was all we had. It was still something I thought, and maybe his feet would be a little warmer. Really, it was all I could do not to scoop him up and take him with me. I looked at his thankful mother and his confused glare and turned to leave. It was hard. At this moment, I cried. Again, the difficulty these people face everyday in contrast to my abundant life (and that of my son) just broke my heart. On the way home I cried some more. Then, our purpose came to me like no time before. We can’t do it all, but we do what we can. A simple thread.
Girl Scout Troop 25268 put together about 30 little bags of candy in jack-o-lantern bags and donated them to A Simple Thread. I gave them to some of our homeless friends who were in the park this afternoon. Once they saw what I was handing out, they lined up and each one of them said, “Trick or treat!” before they took a bag of candy. Some of them talked about Halloweens they remember. Two guys said, “You’re the woman who brings green bags.” They introduced themselves and one of them said, “You’ll remember me from now on, won’t you?” I will. I definitely will.
A Simple Thread had a first tonight. We had so many volunteers that we actually split up into two tracks for our distribution.
Half of us went to an area near downtown where we typically see many homeless women and children. We distributed 47 kits to homeless women, 41 kits to homeless kids, and 35 kits to homeless men. We also passed out books to the kids and lots of cold water to everybody. That group of volunteers also went to the park near downtown where many of our homeless friends sleep. Well, they used to sleep there anyway. Now the police come to make them leave at dusk. The City is working hard to get rid of homeless people in that area — not by offering housing help or job training, but just by not allowing them to sleep in public parks or even sit down on public sidewalks.
The other half of the volunteers went to the area under the Pierce Elevated, as well as several spots in Midtown. People were so happy to see us and get our kits, along with lots of cold water and a case of bananas (thanks Robin Mix). We got hugs, handshakes, and one gentleman even sang us a song. He said that the name of our group reminded him of the song. It was a lovely moment. Another man opened his bag and gasped as he said with a huge sigh, “I looooove these people!” He looked up and saw me smiling. He said, “I’ve got an awful cold and look at this! I got sinus/allergy medicine. I thought I’d just be miserable.” He was just shaking his head in disbelief. At another stop, people were excited when they saw we were the people who brought the green bags. They said our green bags were the best! At one stop, there were about a dozen men and women sleeping on a sidewalk. We tried to be quiet so we wouldn’t wake them as we placed a kit and a banana beside each person. Several of them woke up, though. Each one was so excited at waking up to such a great little gift.
A Simple Thread would not exist without our committed volunteers. Thanks to everybody who came out to help — Houston Association of Legal Professionals (HALP) volunteers, Maribel Castro and her daughter, Cathy Herrington and her son, Sean and Cindy Brennan, Jessica Wright, Melissa Wethe, and Robin Mix. We are all connected by A Simple Thread.
I had been out on a distribution once before, that was quite eye opening. Assumptions I had, Jac helped remind me why we shouldn’t pass judgments (i.e. the nice shoes may have been given from a donation, the pay per use cell phones are needed to try and contact employers – those types of things). I recall one man in particular, that first trip, that stopped and said to us all “I can’t thank you enough for what you guys bring to us. It really helps more than you know. God bless you!” That made my heart happy to know that the short time we take to assemble kits and distribute them really impacted someone – it really meant something to him other than just another hand-out. Well, last night’s distribution touched me even deeper. I recognized some faces from my first trip, but the new faces I saw were so very excited to see us – the kids. When they came up to us and saw some of our group handing out kid kits with stuff they enjoyed (i.e. coloring books, crayons, snacks, etc.) The smiles on their little faces were priceless! Also, I saw this lady, so very excited over the fact she got lip gloss in her kit (as she munched on some cheese pretzels). And before we left the Star of Hope area, this woman clearly begging for another kit for her sister or husband (I couldn’t remember which), I had the task of telling her that our rule was one per person that was present. I told her “I would love to but we have to spread the love and it’s only fair for them to be present.” She smiled back sincerely and said “You are right, Thank you for my bag!” – It was truly genuine and sincere. These 3 stories in particular stood out. They are what makes me want to make sure I attend the next trip out.
I saw a women sitting out in the middle of a parking lot and she had five little kids with her. I was handing out jackets and snack kits. I went to offer her a jacket. I asked if she was going to a shelter for the night because it was supposed to get down to 40 degrees that night. She said that two of the kids were hers and three were her sister’s. Her sister left the kids with her, but she hadn’t been back for them in three days. These were all little kids — like maybe ages 2 – 6. She said she couldn’t go to the shelter because they had stayed there before and the staff would know the three kids weren’t hers and they would have to call CPS. So they had been on the streets for 3 nights by then. I gave her a jacket and she said, “Do you have any kid size ones?” Of course, I didn’t. I went back to the car and got a full length cape i had worn for years. When my kids were little, 2 or 3 of them could fit under it with me when I was wearing it. I gave her the cape and a blanket so at least the kids could be covered for the night. They all got snack kits, too, and were very grateful for everything.
Four weeks after Hurricane Ike hit, I am still astonished at how it increased the homeless population in Houston. This isn’t because of people who were left homeless in Houston. It’s because, when communities like Galveston were destroyed, people who were already homeless there lost their supports — the shelters, the soup kitchens, the social services. Then there were the newly homeless from those communities. I met a single mother with two young daughters. She had an apartment in Galveston and a job. Ike destroyed her apartment building, as well as the restaurant where she worked. She was waiting on a housing voucher from FEMA, but she hadn’t brought a copy of her lease with her. She hoped to find a job, but she had no place to leave her children while she worked. She was very happy to get A Simple Thread kits for her and her daughters.
When I first told people that I was going to give kits to the homeless, the most common reaction was, “Aren’t you afraid?” I never was. And now, when I take other people with me, they usually expected to be scared and are surprised at how calm and how grateful the people are. I’ve been called an angel so many times! People are thrilled by the simplest things that most of us take for granted — toothpaste, deodorant, magazines, new socks, shaving cream, a bottle of vitamins.
A woman gave me a great compliment one night. She said, “You must do surveys of homeless people to see what we need. You gave me cough drops in one of your kits. It is so hard to sleep when you have a bad cough. And it’s hard for the people around you to sleep, which gets people upset. I got two whole weeks of good sleep from those cough drops you gave me.”
A young man approached me when I was handing out kits and he said, “Are you really giving these away for free?” I asked him if he was homeless and he said he was. Then he said, “I feel a little funny saying I’m homeless because I have always been homeless. I grew up in foster homes and, when I turned 18, I had to start making it on my own. It’s been hard.” It made me realize how often it is true that the thing that stands between us and homelessness is our family.
Most of the time, when people get the kits, they say a simple thank you. Sometimes, they will start a brief conversation, sometimes in order to ask for money. Sometimes, they just want to shake hands or give a hug of appreciation. Sometimes, they even complain because someone else’s kit has foot powder (or whatever) and theirs didn’t, or because we won’t give them two kits. But this one night, as I was closing the trunk of my car because I was down to the last kit, a man held out his hand. I gave him the kit and he took it, but then he said that he wanted to shake my hand. As I extended my hand, and he took it, he said, “Today is my 75th birthday and I just want to tell someone my name today.” I was so touched by that. A 75-year-old man, homeless, hungry, and wanting to have someone just acknowledge his name and his day. We both had tears in our eyes as he held my hand in both of his and said in a husky voice, “I’m Rufus and I’m pleased to meet you.”
One hot summer day, we handed out cold oranges with the kits. A woman approached us with tears in her eyes, saying “You have oranges? I can’t remember the last time I had an orange. It’s been years.”
We were handing out kits and a young man came running up to the car. We were handing out kid kits from one trunk and adult kits from another. He was in line with the adults, but when he heard me directing kids over to the kid line, he went running. I tried to stop him because he was clearly too old for the things we put in our kid kits. His mother then told me that, although he is 17-years-old, he has autism, and she thought he would enjoy the kid kit. He came running back in a few minutes and he was very excited about the snacks, the crayons, the coloring book, the book, the stickers, and the matchbox car. But he asked me if we had anything pokeman. His mother said he is obsessed with pokeman. We didn’t have anything with pokeman on it. That week, I had lunch with a friend who has donated lots of kit items to A Simple Thread. I told her the story. She brought me two pokeman books and a cap. I took them to the same place that I had seen the mother and kid before. They were still there. And he was so thrilled that he cried.
One of our Board members often brings her 7-year-old daughter to help assemble and deliver kits, but decided that, on the first Sunday evening distribution of the new school year, she would have her daughter stay home to get to bed earlier. Her daughter helped her assemble some Kid Kits at home and that’s when she told her that she wouldn’t be taking her for the distribution. The daughter went to her room and came back ten minutes later with this note for her mom:
I reely want to go to the simpl thred. I swer I will come home and go rite to bed and I peenki swer. And I love to go to the simpl thred becase I like to give the oranjes to the pepl.
Ples can I go. Sine here X_____________.
So yes, she helped us with the distribution that night.
I was in an empty parking lot distributing kits. It seems that all I have to do is open my trunk and people I didn’t even see before start coming. One woman came up to me and said, “So YOU are the magic bag lady! They told me there was a magic bag lady who showed up and gave out bags of things we need, but I didn’t believe them. Now here you are!” I really like being the magic bag lady!
I handed a kit to a woman and she asked if she could hug me. She was in a wheelchair and I bent down to hug her. She held me close and whispered to me, “You gave me a kit two weeks ago and it had those little packets of Tide in it. I was able to wash out all of my clothes. You have no idea what that meant to me.”
The day before Hurricane Ike was supposed to hit, I went out distributing rainy day kits. At that point, we had no idea how really bad Ike would eventually be to Houston. One place where I stopped to hand out kits, there was an elderly man taking all the trash out of one dumpster and putting it into the dumpster next to it. He said he would ride out the storm in that dumpster because he was sure it was heavy enough that it wasn’t going anywhere. I saw him again about 6 days after the storm and he said it was scary, but he didn’t blow away.