A Birthday Wish for Bruce…

As some of you may know, I work closely with the St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation as their Grant Writer.  The SPCDC promotes human self-sufficiency through their many programs serving greater Paterson and Passaic County NJ.  The Men’s Shelter, one of its flagship programs, currently houses men in transition who are committed to making a change in their lives.  Through case management and hard work, men seek stable employment and secure permanent housing.

I’ve become fond of this program not only through my professional work, but on a personal level.  The program elicits the help of volunteers 365 days a year to provide the men with a hot family-style meal each night.  Being an avid cook, I have brought my culinary experiments to the men on several occasions and I’ve even managed to strong-arm my friends and family into the experience as well.

I’m like a kid at Christmas when it comes to bringing new volunteers along.  I’m overjoyed to share this humbling experience of what it means to truly serve others and in turn, watch how the experience actually serves them.  Regardless of what kind of day I’m having, when I volunteer at the Shelter, I always walk away feeling that I have been helped more than I was helping.  From the moment I park my car and the men meet me with big smiles helping to unload food to the moment they put the empty trays in my back seat, I receive the pleasure of what it feels like to give.  My contribution, small as it is, makes a bigger impact on me.  Who knew that cooking a simple meal for someone could spark a chain of happy endorphins for your soul?

The men are appreciative of the food, but also the fellowship.  I’ve gotten to know them and their stories throughout the years and every once in a while, you meet someone that particularly tugs on your heart strings.  For me, this man is Bruce.  Bruce has been a stable resident at the Shelter and as a seasoned alum, he has worked his way up to now working at the church some evenings and on the weekends.  Every time I come into the church, I’m greeted by the man who likens a thinner version of the cooking icon Mario Batali.  He always has a smile on his face and a good read in his hand.  He constantly asks me how I’m doing more importantly, how the baby is?  He has become not only a familiar face, but a staple in the St. Paul’s community.

Last Monday, I got the news that Bruce had a sudden heart attack while working at the church.  He was rushed to the hospital and had to await open heart surgery.  To make matters worse, while he was away, the Shelter endured an unfortunate turn of events and in the process all of Bruce’s belongings were destroyed and had to be discarded unbeknownst to him.

Bruce is now out of the hospital and in addition to recovering, he is now coming to terms that all he has worked for at his time at St. Paul’s is gone.

Hearing this story, my heart broke.  As some of you may know, I am no stranger to loss.  After a freak accident during a cross country move, Joe and I lost most of our belongings not so long ago.  However, it never really mattered because we had each other and we had the amazing support of family and friends to help us.  My heart broke for Bruce because unlike us, he is not so lucky.  With no family and friends to rely on, Bruce is faced with a grime reality.

But although the past can’t be changed, the future can.  As my birthday approaches, I’ve reflected on all the blessings in my life and how lucky I am to have an amazing network of support.  The love and grace that many have showed in my life is just beyond words.  As I sit here sipping my tea, I am warmed to tears actually reflecting upon this.  I’m really the luckiest girl alive.

Make no mistake, my life has not been hardship free.  However, when I’ve experienced those hard times and right around the corner, there was someone there (probably even you) who has helped lift me up.   This support (your support) is the best gift I could ever ask for and I have it already.  I don’t want or need for anything else.  So as 33 lurks dangerously close and I hear the dreaded question, “What is it that you want for your birthday?”  I’ve been pretty silent.  I truly don’t need anything, but I realized that someone else does and that someone is Bruce.

So if you are one of the many folks who really wants to do something for my birthday, what I really would like is that you do something for Bruce.  If we could show him even 1% of the happiness you’ve all shown me over time, this would make my birthday very happy.  Below, you will find his needs and sizes:

Shoes: 9-9.5

Pants: 36 waist

Shirt: L or XL

T Shirt: XL

Coat: XL

Socks

You can help him by donating gently used or new clothing, purchasing gift cards from Walmart or K-mart or making a monetary donation to the greater work that is being done at the SPCDC Men’s Shelter, which will benefit not just Bruce, but the 32 other residents. Gifts can be received directly to the St. Paul’s Men’s Shelter at 451 Van Houten St. Paterson, NJ 07501 or you can get them to me and I would be happy to deliver them.  For more information on the greater work of the SPCDC, please visit www.stpaulscdcnj.org.  Thank you in advance for your kindness and generosity.

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