Almost before the ink was dry on the paper, I was getting calls and e-mails from people who wanted to help. Rich people, poor people, local people and distant people, all touched by Tom's plight. The offers included advice on dealing with the system, legal advice, housing advice and cash.
To recap, Tom, 55, works full-time as a security guard and lives in a small, two-bedroom apartment that he used to split with his aunt. She died, he was hospitalized with osteoarthritis and was moved to a lower-paying job because he can no longer walk without crutches. When I interviewed Tom, he was down to his last $200 and couldn't pay his full $900 monthly rent. His monthly salary is $1,060, so, clearly, he needed some fast help - and a cheaper place to live.
It has to be pet-friendly, because Tom lives with two cats, Buddy, 4, and Misha, 12. An insight into Tom: He would find a new home, if he had to, for his beloved Misha, because she's a friendly cat and would fit into any good home. He'd never surrender Buddy because, as a former street cat, he is "not trusting." Tom would keep Buddy because he fears no one else would.
Tom was "too young" and earned "too much" ($11 an hour) to get government aid. Like many of the working poor, he fell between the cracks.
I told you his story, told you he was at the end of his rope. Then the offers starting flowing.
On Friday, I delivered an amazing $10,000 to Tom and escorted him to the bank.
"I am flabbergasted - I never expected this in a million years," Tom said, adding that some say that people are uncaring. "I don't think so. They just don't know" about other people's needs.
Half came from the oft-maligned Joey Vento, owner of Geno's Steaks, who sent a check for $5,000.
My column hadn't even asked for anything. "We know what to do without being told," said Vento, who is charitable in many ways. (In addition to the check, he included a gift certificate for a cheesesteak.)
The day after the column ran, a politically connected gentleman messengered over a $1,000 check. I called to thank him and for permission to use his name. He wants anonymity, but said that his gift was to shine some light into a world that seems so dark sometimes.
Best-selling author Steve Alten, a native Philadelphian now in Florida, sent $1,000 and a letter telling Tom that "by accepting this money you are helping to make me a better person, to allow more light into my life."
Ed Rubino, the owner of Ralph's restaurant in South Philly, sent in $400 and told me that he feels that he is blessed with his life and family, and wanted to share.
Peter and Carole Placido, of Springfield, sent in a generous check (they asked me to withhold the amount), and a PetSmart gift card for Tom's cats.
Dozens of other checks poured in. I wish I could mention everyone's name, but I can't. Some arrived with prayer cards, or greeting cards, or notes to cheer up Tom. Many mentioned their own blessings in life, others said that they had survived bad times with the help of others and were now paying it forward.
Very touching, to me, was a Frankford lady who could afford to send only $5, but made the check for $5.44, to cover postage, after I told her that I thought Tom would send thank-you notes to people who reached out to him.
Tom's chief problem remains housing. To help him with that, I hooked him up with the Community Action Agency of Delaware County, which gets private and public funding. CAADC got him "into the system," director Ed Coleman told me, but there's a long wait for housing. CAADC is running on fumes due to the state budget impasse.
While the system grinds, kind readers bought Tom time. From the names of the donors, and from their voices on the phone, I know that the generous people are Christians and Jews (and maybe others), black and white.
The common denominator was humanity, not religion, not race, not creed. In the City of Brotherly Love, it always should be.
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