Today was a sad day.
Just shy of three years ago, a woman walked through the doors of Mary’s Place looking for a coat. She was quiet, overwhelmed, scared, but determined to get back on her feet. After a nasty fall on an icy sidewalk, Sally found herself hospitalized, facing multiple procedures that drained her savings, her 401K, and eventually left her homeless. Released from the hospital to the streets, she took an even harder fall, into a deep cycle of depression. But within months of walking through our doors, Sally started to rebuild her strength, her self-esteem and her life.
She moved into a community house – 10 roommates, but a door of her own. She started volunteering at Mary’s Place as a way to give back. Sally started by working in Bon Mary’s, our incentive store. Every Tuesday and Thursday she was there, setting up and running the store, helping women choose the perfect scarf or just the right perfume to spend their hard earned points on. On non-shopping days, Sally could be found organizing the storage room, or creating incredibly beautiful gift baskets to be sold on the store. I mean, seriously beautiful baskets. People often commented that she should work for a boutique, the way she thoughtfully and artfully put items together was a true skill.
Slowly, Sally started teaching other women how to run and organize the store. As she did so, she sifted into a role as Donations Queen. She would stand at the door and greet every donor with the same genuine smile. She kept the donations organized – a never ending task! – and made sure that everyone who came to us – a donor or a receiver, felt loved and appreciated.
A true early bird, Sally spent the early morning hours on Craigslist, trying to be the first to claim items she knew women would need as they moved into housing. She would share the stories of the women of Mary’s Place, as well as her own, to these Craigslist sellers, and by the time the item was dropped off, they were our new best friends. Many of our current donors and volunteers are here soley because of the relationship that Sally started with a simple email.
When Marty and I grieved at the number of women and children flooding our doors, homeless, we wanted to reach out to the faith community to start an emergency family shelter. While we spun our big plans, Sally diligently worked the phones every day until we had 17 congregations who had stepped up to host a rotating family shelter. One of those churches broke off from the rotating model to host a year round two-parent family shelter! When she would call a church and get a “no” she would simply smile and say, “Well, they said no this time. But I’ll eventually get them to say yes! How could they not?” Because of Sally’s compassion and passion, we have been able to house over 30 families in 9 months.
Always incredibly cheerful, Sally had a smile for everyone she met. Her honesty was endearing and refreshing. And her drive to change the perception of homeless women was unending. Sally spoke every chance she could get about her own story – breaking down preconceived notions and myths about homelessness. She welcomed in the lost, the lonely and the hurting, and connected them to resources, community and hope.
Two weeks ago, sitting in her chair, in her own apartment, Sally passed away after two months of battling various illnesses. The shock that has followed her passing has brought many stories to surface. Today, at her memorial, in a room packed with people who loved her dearly, women got up, one after another, to share the story of how Sally touched their lives. Each person lit a candle in her honor, and together, we bid her body farewell.
But we know, we are confidant, that Sally has not left us. Her legacy to Mary’s Place can be found in the mother’s relief when she finds a shelter bed tonight; and in the woman’s dignity when she shops for makeup on Bon Mary’s; and in all of those who look at homelessness with a little more compassion.
I thank you Sally, for the gifts you have given. You will be greatly missed.