Salvation Army resident Ella Crosby has only been homeless for 30 days, but the city native said her month on the streets has given her a strong sense of perspective.
“I’ve learned to appreciate the little things,” remarked the 57-year-old domestic violence survivor who said she fell on hard times after leaving her husband. “…I’ve been knocked down a lot but I just keep bouncing up.”
Crosby was among the more than 200 local homeless men, women and children who were treated to a post-Labor Day picnic by the Twin City Quarter (TCQ), which includes the downtown Marriot and Embassy Suites hotels and the Benton Convention Center. The TCQ is owned and/or managed by Noble-Interstate Investment Group.
The Sept. 4 picnic was slated to be held outside in the parking lot of the Convention Center, but was moved inside because of the threat of rain. Guests were served traditional cookout favorites, including hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and grilled chicken.
“The food was good,” said Crosby, who was slated to move out of the shelter and into her own apartment by the weekend. “I hadn’t eaten a good beef hotdog in a long time, and it was wonderful.”
A group of TCQ employees – the Make a Difference Committee – staged the picnic.
“We’re just happy to be a part, to help out in the community,” Bob Swenson, TCQ area managing director, said of the Make a Difference concept, which originated from Hilton Hotels. “It’s very, very important to give back, and this is one way we can do it.”
Justin Harkey, president of the Make a Difference Committee, said he was hopeful the shelter residents would appreciate the sentiments behind the event.
“I hope that they get that we really do care, that we really do want to make a difference,” said Harkey, the director of restaurants at the Twin City Quarter. “I hope that they see the Samaritan example that we’re trying to lead.”
The 12 member Make a Difference Committee has hosted a variety of small community service initiatives over the course of the last year, but Tuesday’s picnic was the first large-scale event the group has attempted, Harkey explained. The Committee is transitioning from smaller monthly events to larger scale initiatives designed to impact a larger number of people, he said.
Working in the heart of downtown has made Twin City Quarter employees acutely aware of homelessness and inspired Committee members to want to get involved, said Jen Prpich, general manager of the Marriott and chair of the Make a Difference Committee.
“As the Twin City Quarter, we’re the cornerstone of downtown,” she said. “If we don’t address the homeless population in the downtown community … and make sure we’re fulfilling their needs, we’re not going to be as successful as we could be.”
Monique Freeney, director of correction and social services for the Salvation Army, helped to shuttle the shelter’s 88 current residents to the event. Freeney, who has served the agency for 16 years, said the contributions of for-profit companies help the Salvation Army to further its reach within the local sector.
“I just think it’s awesome for companies to be willing to spend their time and effort and provide for people (who are) less fortunate,” Freeney stated. “…It helps our budget in giving and providing those types of things to the clients that we serve, and we do rely on it a lot.”
Bethesda Center resident William Capers said he has been on the streets for two weeks, after being laid off from his industrial cleaning job.
“I lost my house, I lost everything,” said the 49 year-old, who suffers from congestive heart failure. “It’s been rough, it really has.”
Though the Fayetteville native and father of four is grappling with many challenges in his life, he said he was heartened by the kindness of the Make a Difference Committee.
“I think that’s great that they’re actually helping and not just throwing money at the situation,” he declared. “It’s good to see the organizations that help the homeless because it just shows that somebody actually cares.”