Retired Marine fulfilling one homeless man’s Christmas list sparks a nationwide community
The holidays for many is a time to be together with family and friends. For Jane Shapiro, however, a 10-year Marine veteran still getting used to civilian life again, they come with a ping of sadness.
“In the Marine Corps, I spent every Christmas alone,” she said. “I really dreaded the holidays.”
So when she took a new route to work one day and saw people sleeping on the benches below the Christmas tree in front of the Capital building, she saw something in their faces that felt all too familiar to her.
Where it started
It was this feeling that drove her to do something very few of us have the courage to do; she walked over and started a conversation with one of them, a man named Angelo.
“I just sat down and talked to him,” Jane told Majically News in an interview.
“When I was still a Marine and COVID was hitting us pretty heavy, my friends and I on Quantico volunteered in lunch lines, got leftover meals, and drove them up to DC and passed them around. My intention with Angelo was to kind-of do what me and my friends had already been doing and ask if I can get him a meal or a new coat or something, just something to help.”
A naturally shy man, he politely declined at first and insisted she not go through any trouble on his behalf. That was when Jane got an idea.
“’You know what,’ I said, ‘what if I wrote down your Christmas list?’”
After laughing it off at first, Angelo relented, and in a few minutes Jane had a modest list of things Angelo most wished for: size 8.5 shoes, size 31/29 pants, medium shirts, a radio to listen to music, socks, and friends.
After posting Angelo’s list on social media, support rapidly poured in, more than Jane ever dreamed of. “I don’t have some crazy following or anything,” she told Majically News.
“I only have 200 or so Facebook friends, but I just posted his Christmas list and said, ‘Hey guys, I have everything I need, but it would be really cool this Christmas if we could knock this out.’ People that I haven’t even spoken to in years were sharing it. Some were sending hundreds of dollars.”
It quickly became clear that something that once started to fulfill the wishes of one man had the potential to do much more. “The incredible support got my gears turning,” said Jane.
“We obviously had enough to take care of Angelo ten times over, but it’s not just Angelo. No, we can’t save the world, but I thought maybe it would be great to do something as a community.”
With the help of her friends and some volunteers, Jane then organized an event to pass out the donations she had received — well over 2,000 items by that point which quickly filled both her small hatchback and apartment. To ensure the homeless community was aware of the event, they spent their spare time passing out flyers throughout the area.
A few local businesses even agreed to chip in to support the cause. Margaret’s Catering, a black woman-owned “soul food” truck, is one such example.
“Margaret answered phone and I just told her my story. It melted my heart. I told her, ‘Look, I’m not an organization. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m not asking for donations, we’ll pay you.’ But she said no. ‘I don’t have much,’ she said, ‘and my business has been hit really hard [from COVID], but I was taught to help when someone is trying to do something good.’”
The event was so successful, and the community response so positive, that Jane and her group knew that this could be more than just a one-time event.
CAPITOL CHRISTMAS — Two Marines who just moved to DC from Okinawa are giving out hundreds of coats, scarves, and meals to the homeless…
— Mike Valerio (@MikevWUSA) December 24, 2020
“This community is massive,” said Carol. “We’re all friends. A lady from Vermont mailed us stuff. A lady from New York donated things. A traveling nurse on the front lines of the pandemic, who was just in town for a few days, showed up in scrubs with a trunk full of donations. So, they can see they’re part of this community, I started putting their stories up on Instagram under @yourdcfriends. I had the stories of Angelo and other people in need, but I wanted to show others too, to show that we’re all in need at some point. We all want to help each other. That’s really what we’re about.”
How it’s going
In just a few days, @yourdcfriends already has over 500 followers on Instagram. Although Jane is still trying to understand where momentum will carry this endeavor and what form it will take, it is clear that the community she has created isn’t going anywhere.
A few people have even been inspired enough to try to create a similar group in their own areas. “I got a message from one lady in Austin, Texas and said she wanted to do something like what I was doing,” she said.
“Then I had another friend reach out from L.A. who wanted to create something there. That got me thinking, maybe we can do this all over the place. If you asked me what my goal is, I want to see your ‘insert city here’ friends everywhere. That would mean the world to me.”
Your DC Friends expects to have more events coming within the next month, and as the community built upon the sharing of a homeless man’s simple Christmas list continues to grow, Jane can’t wait to continue what is quickly becoming her life’s work.
“In this big world, in D.C. especially I think, so much is going on we sometimes forget about our neighbors,” said Jane. “Let’s just slow down and take a step back. There’s no work needed to be a friend. You may not change the world, but you can change someone’s world.”
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