COLUMBUS—It’s morning. We are at the Stewart Community Home homeless shelter. Kara is our tour guide today, she helps run the place.
We begin the grand tour at the reception desk. Here, Christmas decorations have already come out. On the desk there is a colorful plastic mailbox which is labeled: “Santa’s Mailbox.”
“That’s where residents put their Christmas lists,” says Kara. “They pick three things they want from Santa, and we buy them. We have a guy who plays Santa Claus, he’s got the real beard and everything. You should see our Christmases, most fun you’ll ever have.”
I ask what kinds of gifts residents ask Santa for. Kara says they mostly ask for socks, hats, mittens, underwear, or haircuts.
“Last year,” Kara says, “one lady just wanted an arts and crafts set. You know, it’s the little things.”
An elderly black woman shuffles to Santa’s Mailbox and places a letter inside. She does not make eye contact with me. She hurries away before I can talk to her.
I meet a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair. She has one leg. She is parked in the hallway so she can greet passers-by.
“She’s been through hell,” Kara whispers. “First a horrible divorce, then doctors found a blood clot, she lost her leg, lost her job, her money, no family. We found her living in her car with her cat.”
This is just one version of a similar story for most residents here. And you can see this story all over their faces.
An old man in slippers walks the halls accompanied by a tiny dog on a leash. The dog is named Rat Rat.
“Hey, Rat Rat,” says Kara.
The old man says, “Where’re your manners, Rat? Say hello to the young lady.”
We all take turns greeting Rat Rat. Then, the old man lifts the dog into his arms for a kiss. These two have been together for a long time.
He says, “You oughta see Rat Rat watch football with us. In the cafeteria we watch the Falcons play on TV, whenever they score, Rat Rat barks.”
The old man decides to demonstrate.
He shouts, “TOUCHDOWN, RAT RAT! COME ON! LOOK! RAT RAT! TOUCHDOWN!”
But Rat Rat is not in the mood.
“Well,” the man says, “He don’t wanna do it with y’all watching.”
Right now, the home is almost filled to capacity. We meet a host of people in recreation areas. They are watching television, knitting, coloring, reading, or sitting in the courtyards.
“Most of our people have mental illness,” says Kara. “Lotta people don’t realize how debilitating mental illness is. That’s half our battle.”
A young man in a wheelchair is watching a soap opera on TV.
“How’re you today?” Kara asks.
“Oh, I dunno, Miss Kara,” the man says. “I’ve been better.”
“It’s gonna be okay,” says Kara. “We’re gonna get it all figured out. I promise.”
“I wanna see you smile.”
We arrive at the cafeteria. The mess hall is half living room, half dining room. Checkered tablecloths. Flower arrangements. A few sofas positioned before a flat-screen television. A group of older men sit around the TV, enthralled.
“What’re you watchin’?” Kara asks the men.
“Batman,” they say in unison.
A man with no teeth says, “Buh-mun.” Then he smiles at me.
One older man on the sofa is lean, with skin that is tan and rough. Bluish eyes. He points to Kara and says, “This woman saved my life, she rescued me.”
“Oh, hush,” says Kara.
“It’s true,” he goes on. His eyes are getting wet.
Just yesterday, Kara was at the Dollar General buying Christmas lights for the cafeteria. She saw this man begging for food on the sidewalk. It was raining pretty hard, he was soaked. The man asked if she had anything to eat. Kara answered, “I can do better than food. How’d you like to come live with me?”
And that, by God, was that.
They loaded him into her truck, gave him a room, new clothes, and a bed. Last night, he took his first hot shower in months.
He says, “Two nights ago, I slept on a porch. Night before that I was on a sidewalk. Now I’m taking showers and sleeping on a mattress.”
Next on the tour is the kitchen. This is where all the holiday magic happens. The galley is ablaze with smells. A huge spiral ham. Macaroni and cheese. Butterbeans. Greens. Lots of sweet tea. The cooks are standing at stoves, listening to music, bobbing their hips to “Jingle Bell Rock.”
“We serve five meals per day,” says one cook. “Breakfast, late-breakfast snack, lunch, post-lunch snack, and supper.” She laughs. “Lord, all we do is cook, but it’s worth it, these people love to eat.”
Apparently she’s right. Lunch isn’t for another hour, but there is already a line forming outside the door. People are waiting outside the cafeteria in the same way that shoppers wait outside stores on Black Friday.
“They got damn good grub here,” says one old man who is missing an eye.
Kara corrects the man’s language because there is no ugly language used at the Stewart Home.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Miss Kara,” he says, bowing his head. “I just plumb damn forgot.”
After the tour, I leave by way of the reception desk. I pass Santa’s Mailbox again. There is a man striding toward me. He walks with a pronounced limp, he carries a cane. He places a slip of paper into the mailbox slot.
I ask him whether he thinks Santa is going to be generous to him this year.
“Santa?” says the man. “Who needs Santa when we get to live in heaven with real-life angels?”
Well. The man makes a pretty good point.
Sandi. - November 19, 2019 6:38 am
Hi Sean, and thank you for sharing this vividly heartwarming story. I hope and pray that Kara gets everything on her Christmas wish list. After reading your glowing remarks about her, she definitely deserves to be at the top of Santa’s nice list.
George T Jacoby - November 19, 2019 6:58 am
Kara is a friend, and I knew where she worked, but I’ve never been there. I’ll go, now, and say hi to the angels. Thanks for going there, Sean.
Karen Greatrix - November 19, 2019 7:29 am
Bless Kara and bless you for sharing this with us.
Amanda - November 19, 2019 10:51 am
Whoa! I’ve worked with homeless people and this column leaves me practically speechless because it’s so well done.. Your mix of journalistic observation is strong and tender at the same time,,,
Richda McNutt - November 19, 2019 11:20 am
Thank you for bringing this shelter to people’s attention. Many people would like to donate to sites and organizations devoted to the homeless but live in areas that, for one reason or another, do not have resources for homeless people. This appears to be a wonderful shelter to receive our donations.
Ginger Smith - November 19, 2019 11:37 am
The Stewart Home has done a wonderful job for years. I remember they always liked orange soda more than any other soft drink! And I think I know who Santa is….one of many things for which he volunteers his time and energy.
Pecos Kate - November 19, 2019 11:46 am
This is love! What an inspiration!
Cathy Diane Callender - November 19, 2019 12:22 pm
No words! But plenty of tears!♥️♥️♥️
Lita - November 19, 2019 12:59 pm
Connie Flowers - November 19, 2019 1:14 pm
What a beautiful story and warms my heart to hear of the good Kara and Stewart Community home are doing to help everyone!
Jan - November 19, 2019 1:23 pm
Beautiful vision of people helping people. We need a Stewart Home in every community. There are so many in need and so few places or people to help. Thank you, Sean, for showing me that there is hope!
Barbara Barnes - November 19, 2019 1:29 pm
Thank you for this story of earthly angels.
Dee Thompson - November 19, 2019 1:43 pm
Beautiful story, Sean. This place obviously does God’s work. One tiny suggestion – let people know how to donate. https://stewartcommunityhome.com/donate/
Dianne - November 19, 2019 1:45 pm
Bless Kara, people and organizations just like her. These people are true angels on earth. May Santa make all of their Christmas wants, needs and wishes come true.
Bobbie - November 19, 2019 1:55 pm
Sure puts things in perspective! Those who are so dedicated to helping others truly are God’s angels. The Golden Rule certainly applies here.
Thank you for sharing this story. I hope it sheds some light on the ongoing plight of the homeless and needy. God bless them …those who give so freely..and those in the kitchen who work tirelessly preparing FIVE meals a day! And I’ll bet they are delicious !
Thank you Sean. Have a blessed day❤️
Margaret Angell - November 19, 2019 2:12 pm
Thank you for visiting and highlighting the Stewart Community Home, Sean. Kara has done an outstanding job in the short time she has been there. Of course, you cannot help but love Kara ‘cause she’s a redhead, too!
Shelton A. - November 19, 2019 2:21 pm
Great story…thank you for reminding us how truly blessed we are. Thanks, Sean. God bless y’all and Miss Kara (and her ministry/calling to help the homeless).
Alice Stagg - November 19, 2019 3:49 pm
Sean thank you for visiting and writing about this very important and much needed refuge. Stewart Community Home operates on donations and whatever grants they can obtain. They are unique in their field in what they do and provide. Donations of any kind are gratefully accepted. You didn’t mention visiting what they call their 15th Street Boutique. It is a room where gently used, or even new clothing and shoes of all kinds which have been donated are displayed for the residents to shop and “buy” for themselves. The Home provides all the necessities and toiletries they need, but Kara says the residents enjoy going shopping in the boutique for something special to wear. Bless you for telling your audience about Stewart Community Home. I’m glad you met Rat Rat and his person, Ricky. I brought them to Kara last year when their world fell apart, and she immediately took them in. At the time, they were living in his car. Now they both are safe, well fed and happy.
Alice Stagg - November 19, 2019 3:52 pm
Yes, Richda McNutt, the Stewart Home truly is worthy to receive any donations and they are such good stewards of what they are given.
Linda Moon - November 19, 2019 3:53 pm
Kara is a real-life Angel. We don’t see enough of them in this world. Two more Angels could be included in this story: Sean and Jamie Dietrich. It’s always the little things that seem to matter most in life, and sometimes it takes humans with wings to help us remember that. Thank you for taking your time to go to the shelter and share their stories with us!
John Howren - November 19, 2019 3:58 pm
Wonderful story/human observation. Thanks and thanks for your writings.
Jimmie Pate - November 19, 2019 4:18 pm
This makes my heart smile. Thank you so much for such a great article, and thanks for coming to my city, Columbus.
Steve - November 19, 2019 4:33 pm
If you are reading this you have a computer or iPad, internet access, probably WiFi, a roof over your head, likely heating and air, hot water with just the turn of a lever, a comfortable bed, pillows and comforter. You have enough money to pay for all that, and likely a refrigerator full of healthy food. Don’t forget an education to read and write. Sometimes we forget just how truly blessed we are. Millions, probably billions of people would trade places with you in a heartbeat. We should all be grateful that we have the luxury to read about a story of those who don’t have any of the things we take for granted. Thank you Sean for reminding us of just how blessed our lives truly are. There’s a wonderful place in Heaven for people like Kara.
Edna B. - November 19, 2019 7:35 pm
I agree, Kara is a special angel. Every day I give thanks for what I have. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Lynda Clemons - November 19, 2019 8:26 pm
How many residents can Stewart House have? Does each resident have his or her own room? Are the kitchen help paid? What are the stipulations for continued residency? Would love more details about their operation.
jack - November 20, 2019 12:34 am
I do admire folk who donate, volunteer even work for those less fortunate. I coulda been there, I reckon most of us could. But I have been lucky, blessed and been at the right place many times. Nice of you to take the tour. I know it was more than that.
Sherry & JAck
Dru Brown - November 20, 2019 1:30 am
Kara, Sean, and Jamie are bright stars! Every time you introduce your readers to others like yourselves, you enable love in action!
Shirley - November 20, 2019 1:49 am
Thank you for providing information we need to donate.
This was some of your best work and I love everything you write. You probably do not even realize how much influence you have using your amazing and unique talent to promote good in this broken world. Stay encouraged and know that you have many fans who love you.
Melissa Moore - November 20, 2019 2:29 am
Lynda Clemons you and anyone else are welcome to come by the home. We would love to give you a tour. We are very proud of the home and our residents. Kara and Melissa B have done amazing things for the residents and the home. We have a great team and all love what we do.
Kara VinZant - November 20, 2019 3:19 am
The home is a licensed personal care home through the State of Georgia. We are licensed so that we can provide medical and medication management for our residents. All of our staff are paid—we have to maintain a certain ratio so that all of our residents have appropriate assistance at all times.
All of the residents at the Stewart Home have a disability of some sort and they come from situations where they have been unable to manage or establish themselves in a healthy way. We receive residents from the streets, jails, hospitals, mental facilities, and families who can just no longer care for them. Please call the home for more information or to schedule a tour. 706.507.7030
Tim House - November 20, 2019 3:34 am
A damned great place (sorry if I broke the rules)! God bless them, and you for spreading the word. 🙂 <3
Suzanne Hill - November 20, 2019 5:00 am
Help! I deleted November 18 article. Please ! Send it to email@example.com Please & Thank U!
Sandi. - November 20, 2019 5:31 am
Hi Suzanne. At the top of the Comments page here, there is a horizontal menu list (beginning with The Podcast, and ending with Contact). Click on the word ARCHIVES, which will bring up previous articles and stories by Sean. You can then choose November 18 and read it. Easy as eating candy!
Pat - November 20, 2019 5:28 pm
We truly do not know how to be thankful for our blessings! We mostly just take them for granted! Thank God for your blessings every day.
Gale Smith - December 15, 2019 4:38 am
There but for the Grace of God….