Sharing the load: Fundraiser gets couple back on feet
The new year has been one of significant change for a man and his dog; Robert and his beloved canine, Sara, for the first time in about two years, now have a safe place to call home.
Local woman Debbie Parry, noticing that the duo needed help, chose to step out and do something about it — she did what little bit she could and then went beyond that — she started a GoFundMe page for them.
“I have realized that I can't do everything, but I can do something,” she said. “I'm hoping that this GoFundMe will give him a hand up and help him get back on his feet.”
Without transportation, he can't get a job, she said, and without an income, he can't get housing.
“But right now, the housing needs to come first,” Parry said.
She said the first time she saw Robert and Sara they were huddled together, sitting on the frozen ground in the middle of winter, next to the trash bin behind a Walmart gas station.
“Robert had his arms wrapped around Sara, trying to keep himself and her from freezing,” she said. “It broke my heart.”
Though she sympathized with his predicament, a conscious effort didn't come until later.
“I'm ashamed to say that I did nothing,” she said. “Like others, I looked the other way and tried to convince myself that someone would help them; that was about two years ago.”
But it was not the last time she would see them; she would get another chance to make a difference.
In the summer she said she finally made contact.
“I pulled my car over and asked him if he needed some help feeding Sara,” she said. “He replied that it would sure help; he told me that he had recently made sure that Sara got her shots, and he told me how much he loved her.”
She said she began to help him out a little when she could, as did a few other people.
Once Parry hustled to get the word out through a GoFundMe account, donations started pouring in.
Her first goal on the page was set at $3,000, which turned into $5,000 and eventually $7,500.
Now, hundreds of shares and 195 donations later, close to $7,400 has allowed Robert and Sara to purchase a small travel trailer and begin fixing it up.
Money came in all amounts, from $5 on up. A $1,000 gift was recorded just this week from GoFundMe itself.
“Every week, employees nominate GoFundMe campaigns that touches their heart, and if selected, a donation is made to that campaign,” GoFundMe Representative Melissa Serrano said. “This campaign was selected and they received a $1,000 donation.”
Money is not all that has been offered.
“Many people have contacted me,” Parry said, “asking what other things they could do to help the two, mentioning blankets, food and other items.”
Homelessness came quick
“He came to Oklahoma from Tennessee, after a farmer hired him to help get his harvest in,” Parry said. “The farmer promised him year-round work.”
She said Robert was on unemployment in Tennessee when the farmer offered him the job, so he gave up his unemployment check and began working for the man.
“However, when the crops were in, the farmer laid him off,” she said.
Without family or friends here, with no transportation, and unable to get back on unemployment, he found himself among the ranks of the homeless.
Robert and Sara have spent the last three winters in a tent.
“She's my little baby,” Robert said. “I was there the day she was born in Tennessee.”
Sara turned four years old Sept. 17, he said.
“We've been through think and thin,” he said.
One monumental issue was that Robert was unable to stay at a local shelter, as many might assume — because to do so would mean leaving his only family here — Sara — out in the cold to fend for herself.
“He loves his dog more than anything else, Parry said. “Sara is everything to him; he goes without, but makes sure that she is taken care of and fed.”
She said that tells her a lot about what kind of person he is.
Parry said Robert and Sara had been sleeping in a small tent under a bridge next to the highway.
But one day when they were away, someone stole everything he had — his tent, his bedding and the few survival items that he had accumulated. And that was not the first time, nor the last.
“He was devastated; I was mad,” Parry said. “Who steals from a homeless man and his dog?”
She said if he could get a small used travel trailer, he would be able to not only have a roof over his head, but he would also be able to lock it.
“Robert and Sara need something more substantial than a tent to live in,” she said.
Some bitterly cold nights this winter and sickness had Robert's new friends anxious for his wellbeing.
She said though she is not related to Robert, she considers him her friend.
“A kind woman paid for Robert and Sara to get a nearby motel room — bless her heart — and it's a good thing she did because Robert was sick,” Parry said.
When Parry tried to tell Robert everything that was happening with the campaign, she said he was just a bit overwhelmed.
“He teared up several times,” she said. “I think he realized that his life is getting ready to be much better than it has been lately.”
Parry said Robert has expressed the desire to stay in the Shawnee area since he has gotten to know some people here.
There are a lot of good people here in Shawnee,” he said. “Most have been real nice and kind to me, and wanted to help.”
And help, they have.
“He's looking forward to having a place of his own that he knows will always be his and that someone can't take from him,” she said. “We all need security.”
Now that he has his trailer, Robert has been fixing it up to make it livable.
He said he has been working to get everything set up to work on propane.
“I've almost got everything finished; I'm still working on the ice box,” he said.
His new home may be small, but it's going to be a welcome change.
“It's big enough for me and Sara,” he said. “It will keep the rain off.”
Besides, problems like his previous vandalism and burglary issues — and the mice that were eating his tent — will no longer cause such a constant strain.
“I've been through more tents than you can imagine,” Robert said. “I couldn't even be away from it for a little while without someone coming to steal my things or tear up stuff; I was just trying to survive.”
Though he has a temporary spot worked out for the time-being, Robert's goal now, he said, is to find a place to keep his new home.
There aren't really many places where you can park one.
“I'm checking into options like a trailer or RV park,” he said.
Robert said he feels very blessed and grateful to all who have helped him.
“If it hadn't been for these folks, I don't know what we would have done,” he said.
Donor Bernice Lowder said Parry shares frequent updates with her, via email.
“I hear he now has a small camper and a better way to secure what little he and Sara do have,” she said, “which is a huge blessing given he has had a lot of trouble being vandalized and stolen from when they only had a tent.”
She said the reason she chose to give is very simple and heartfelt.
“I often struggle with the ambivalent feelings of wanting to help all in need, yet taking it upon myself to decide who looks like they really need it,” Lowder said.
She originally gave to Robert's fund because she said she never saw him with a sign asking for money.
“I since have felt God working in my life and literally reminding me daily, 'Love everyone, I'll sort them out later',” she said.
So with that instruction, Lowder said she tries to give with a pure heart and “let the big Guy do the rest.”
She said God is doing good things all the time.
“It's really none of my business what is done with my donation,” she said, “it's the intention of why I gave it.”
It's really not about a few dollars — as the almost 200 donors who helped this local family get back on its feet can attest.
“If you've ever turned your eyes away from the homeless,” Parry said, “please know that you can now do something to make a difference in one man's life.”