FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Nine years ago, if the “thank-you blanket” had been a bit better, 67-year-old Sally Segerson might be retired.
It wasn’t and she isn’t.
Instead, she is the sole person behind Street Reach for the Homeless, which gives food and equipment to people living without shelter.
She remembers serving as a homeless census volunteer in 2012. She was tasked to find homeless men downtown and thank them with a napkin-like blanket.
“You wouldn’t even take one to a football game and think it was going to keep you warm,” she recalls. “And yet these people are out in the elements.”
Her indignation was sparked.
Two weeks later, Segerson took a meal to the first homeless man she had met outside the library during the census and a few of his friends. “It started with five men. And then it went to 15.”
That was February, 2012. Since then, she has missed the Monday meal appointment only twice, both times due to ice storms. The number of meals has grown to more than 100 each week.
Segerson has a cooking background; she once owned a restaurant and can cater. She serves the meals with no help, after a man told her spectators with other street groups made him feel like a zoo animal at feeding time. When she broke her wrist last year, she brought in another person.
The Sunday morning “pop-up” events are different. She welcomes volunteers to unload, arrange and distribute the winter coats, hats, gloves, boots, tents and sleeping bags.
She has given out well over 300 coats so far this winter, a sharp jump from last year’s total of 170. She personally covers much of the cost of the food and clothing, which is why she remains employed full time.
“I am blessed with an invisible army of supporters,” she explains. “An average pop-up costs me $1,500. My average meal cost about $200. In the summertime, my average meal will cost me about $250 to $300 because my numbers go up that high. That’s all part of donations, all part of my GoFundMe*.”
She’s never formalized Street Reach for the Homeless into a non-profit or tax-exempt organization. “People are donating out of the goodness of their heart, out of the compassion they have, the understanding they have.”
Segerson bristles at the notion she enables the homeless. “My job is simply to keep them alive until they make another decision or another page in their life story turns. We all should have the opportunity to see the greatest potential out of whatever life story it is that we’re going to live.”
How long can she continue? “Every year you think, ‘my goodness, am I going to do one more winter? Am I going to schlep around in my van?’ At what point in time do you say that this comes to an end?”
As some of the men thank her with an extra “Miss Sally,” it’s clear indignation is not her only motivation.
“That original gentleman who I met outside the library has been in an apartment for at least seven years,” she says, clearly smiling beneath her cloth mask.
“Many of these people I have known for many years. It’s not just: I’m handing things to people. It’s: I listened to you when you talk. You’re sad for a day. Tell me why. You’re hopeless on a day. Tell me why. You’ve got joy in your day. Let’s celebrate together. We’ve watched a lot of things happen over the years. I’m blessed to have that respect coming from those people that I consider my friends.”
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