When Francis Smith lost his wife several years ago, things began to unravel for him. Her untimely death triggered a downward spiral that ultimately left Smith homeless. But one thing that Smith never lost was his sense of gratitude.
“I’m homeless right now. I live out of a truck in a junkyard. It’s not bad, because I have a place to get a few hours of sleep each night and it keeps me dry,” he said.
“But I have to be out by 5 a.m. The only problem with that is that shaving in the dark isn’t too easy. I haven’t even looked in the mirror today. Does my hair look OK?” he said with a laugh.
Smith went on to explain that before he was referred to Catholic Charities, he had lost hope for his future.
“I’ve been treading water for a year and a half,” he said. “I’m 61 years old, and I felt washed up, and I just didn’t even know how to begin getting my life back together. I volunteer at the Cathedral Kitchen, so I’m able to get meals sometimes. But it also makes me feel productive, that’s just the greatest feeling in the world.”
After Smith came to Catholic Charities, staff members Michel Acevedo and Moustafa Aldouri jumped on the case, making phone calls to various employers and landlords.
Acevedo explained that after Aldouri spoke with management at Wal-Mart, they wanted to bring Smith in for an interview the following day at 8 a.m. But given that Francis was homeless, she explained that she had no way of contacting him.
“I was so thrilled that he had an interview. But I didn’t know how to reach him. I thought, ‘I can’t let him miss this opportunity,’” Acevedo said.
Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities, “saw me and knew that something was wrong,” she continued. “I explained the situation and he said, ‘Let’s go, we’re going to find him.’”
And they did.
“I couldn’t stop crying when Mrs. Michel told me that I had an interview. I thought I was dreaming. Within three days, they were able to find someone who might offer me a job. Can you believe that?” Smith exclaimed.
“I didn’t have anything nice to wear, but someone at Catholic Charities even gave me a suit and really nice shoes to wear to my interview. And I guess the managers at Wal-Mart liked me, because they asked me to come to work the next day.”
But there were more obstacles to be overcome. Smith had no money for a uniform.
“We were able to give him $30 of agency money to buy one, even though he was so reluctant to take it,” Acevedo said. “The next day he brought me back $3.75 in change, and after his first paycheck, he wanted to pay back the rest of the money.”
Smith explained that he is thrilled to be working. “I make it a point to come in on my days off, and I always thank my managers before I leave.”
With a job secured, the next challenge for the Catholic Charities staff members to tackle was finding a place for Smith to live.
Acevedo explained, “We offered to give him a security deposit, but he respectfully refused, saying that after a few more paychecks, he’ll be able to afford it. He said, ‘Please give it to someone else who needs it more than I do.’”
She described how touched she was by Smith’s gratitude, cooperation and eagerness.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we crossed paths,” she said. “He has humbled me so much. For someone with so little, he is always thinking of other people. And he is always so beyond grateful.”
Smith explained, “Today, Mrs. Michel told me that she found an apartment for me to live in. I couldn’t stop crying. The thought of having a place to call my own is unimaginable. They said that there was even a TV in there. I don’t even need a TV! I’m going to tell her to give it to someone else.
“I was worried that things would never fall back into place for me,” Smith said, “but I just needed hope. And I needed a push. And Catholic Charities gave me both of those things.”
Smith is just one of the 28,000 people in the six counties of the Camden Diocese assisted by Catholic Charities and given a fresh start. He is also a client of the Welfare to Work Program, designed to create a safety net for those families and individuals who exhausted their five-year time limit on welfare (Work First New Jersey [WFNJ]) and do not meet the criteria for an exemption to the time limit. To learn more about the program, visit: https://catholiccharitiescamden.org/welfare-to-work/saif/