TAMPA — Things are looking up these days for Lynn, a resident at the Salvation Army's Hospitality House in Tampa.
She's in an accelerated program aimed at getting her back on her feet so she can find steady employment and a place to live.
“I've never had any issues,” she said. “I've never been on public assistance. If someone told me a year ago I'd be living in a Salvation Army, I would have laughed.”
On Wednesday, Lynn (who did not want to give her last name), was one of nearly 200 residents of the Salvation Army in Tampa who dined on Joe Maddon's annual Thanksmas meal, a blend of Italian and Polish dishes complete with homemade meat sauce that the Rays manager has been serving to the homeless and those less fortunate in the Tampa area for the past eight years.
Maddon and his staff of Rays employees fed approximately 1,000 men, women and children this week, beginning with the Sallie House in St. Petersburg on Monday and continuing on to Salvation Army stops in Bradenton, St. Petersburg and Tampa, with a trip Wednesday afternoon to the Homeless Emergency Project in Clearwater.
“Of course we appreciate people who give monetarily, but the most precocious gift is when you give up your time and you get on the front lines and give your time and talent, and that's what he's doing. He's getting his hands dirty in order to help,” Major James Hall of the Tampa Salvation Army said.
Lynn, 57, was about to experience her first Thanksmas meal. She heard from other residents that it would be quite the treat. She noticed some of the women spent a little extra time Wednesday afternoon combing their hair and applying makeup. Some wore outfits they tucked away for the occasion.
“It is something special at a time of your life when you don't have a lot of special,” Lynn said.
Last year, Maddon's Thanksmas program was able to donate $7,500 to each of the centers. He will donate again this year, but the amount has yet to be determined. A fundraiser last Friday at 717 South in Tampa raised nearly $20,000. People can also donate at joesthanksmas.com.
The money goes toward the shelters so they can further assist the residents.
“It's just awesome that he can come out here and show a little love, come from the baseball field out to the real field,” said Theodore, 49, who eats daily at the Salvation Army in St. Petersburg.
The St. Petersburg location feeds 125 people a day. That number usually grows the night Maddon and his army arrives loaded down with spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and pierogies.
“We can have spaghetti on the menu but not with homemade sauce that's been simmering for three days,” said Randi-Lyn Farrell, director of development for the St. Petersburg Salvation Army.
Lynn worked for Home Depot for 23 years before embarking on a career as a truck driver. A series of misfortunes took her life in another direction, which led her to the Red Shield Lodge in Tampa for two months before she moved across the street to the Hospitality Home.
“This place is a godsend,” she said.
The home gives women, some with children, a safe place to live along with the resources and support to re-enter the workplace and become self-sufficient.
“Like a lot of people I had the misconception that every homeless person is an alcoholic or on drugs,” Lynn said. “That's not true. Everybody in here fell on hard times for some reason, and they don't know what to do.”
Maddon said he promised himself that if he became a major-league manager, he would use that platform to help those in need. He started the program the winter after he took over the Rays. He's proud that it has become a tradition.
“And that's pretty cool, because when you build a tradition, you start getting involved with the soul and the spirit of the group, which is different than showing up, shaking hands and leaving,” he said.