I knew he would eventually come to the Distribution Center. I’d already had a little talk with The Good Lord because here lately The Good Lord has put a lot of people in my path who need help; fortunately he’s put y’all in my path as well, because I need your help.
Monty (name changed) wore a coat. He said he had a few clothes too. I eyeballed him skeptically, figured that if I dug down to the truth of the matter he probably needed pack of socks and underwear; but I’m a woman and he’s seventy-years-old. Shopping for unmentionables is tad embarrassing (which is why they magically appeared in the buggy later while he wasn’t watching).
“Just need a few things . . . not much,” he said as we head down aisle one, personal hygiene.
As with other shoppers I explain the drill. I open a large green bag and say, “This is yours. You want something, it’s yours.”
“You look on this side, “ I point to the left. “I’ll get you a toothbrush and some toothpaste.” I say this knowing that Depends are opposite the toothpaste, as are feminine hygiene products. Everyone deserves privacy, and to be treated with dignity and respect.
Rounding aisle two we find the priceless handheld can opener and cleaning supplies. “I’m staying with a friend,” he said, “don’t really need cleaning supplies, but I could use some toilet paper.”
Raisins and nuts sit alongside paper products. Having spent the last few months shopping for my dad, I have a pretty good idea that non-cooking seventy-year-old-men like (and need) healthy snacks.
“Raisins?” I ask.
Digging through the shelf I present him with a two-pound bag of walnuts.
“Look what I found. . . bet I can talk you into these.”
Monty smiles, “I do like a walnut.”
“Where were you living when the fire hit?” I ask the question for confirmation. I’d seen Monty throughout the years. Seen him as I walked the sidewalk from Mynatt Park toward Gatlinburg. Seen him through the pinched-back sheet that doubled as a curtain. I’m pretty sure he had seen me as well.
He lived in Widow’s Knob Apartments, a place many tourists never saw; a place most locals deemed an eyesore. In fact, most locals reading this may have secretly wished the City would condemn the place. I don’t know the history, but the building has been there a long time. So long that pieces of the fascia were gone and the paint faded. I’m sure the place was home to all types of critters, but Monty lived there and that’s all that mattered.
Monty lived there and now he doesn’t.
When natural disasters happen the need for housing is immediate and urgent. In Gatlinburg, the need for affordable housing (for workers and the common folk) has been urgent for a while. We just ignore the housing problem because (and here’s where the hate mail will start coming in), property owners can make a pile more money renting to tourists at $150-350 a night than they can renting to workers at $ 1,400 a month.
I’ve been told $1,400 a month is the going rental rate these days. Our buddy “Jack” paid $800 a month for a tiny cabin with no kitchen!
See why young people, and workers earning minimum wage, have no choice but to sublease?
Since my first blog post about “Jack,” (whose real name I will NOT release, please stop asking), people have been blowing up my phone telling me about the rental crisis in Gatlinburg. When the only available housing costs $ 1,400 a month, the leaseholder (who first needs a good credit rating in order to secure a lease), must sublease a room in order to keep a roof overhead.
Oh and for that $ 1,400 a month said leaseholder might get a two bedroom apartment.
Does Monty have $ 1400 a month by which to afford housing?
Fortunately Monty is staying with a friend, but right now, hundreds of workers are homeless. These are single folk, college kids, entire families with young children and pets. This homeless status may become permanent if local officials don’t act quickly. I have heard about a few business owners who plan to build low income housing on their now-singed and vacant lots. (Yeah!!! Good News). The City needs to expedite permits for those landowners; especially since the tourist season is winding down. Affordable housing should be built first, in advance of replacement rental cabins. (I know, more hate mail is on the way).
I have also heard about property owners opening rental cabins to people. Thank you. We need MORE people doing that. And yes, we will remember who turns away folk with the statement “we don’t rent to locals.”
I understand that business owners don’t want small kids cramped into a room for the long-haul, but what about a week? Any hotel with an empty room should be thrilled to fill it right now.
And to those who tell me that the Red Cross shelter IS open in Gatlinburg at the City Community Center, could someone relay that information to the person(s) answering the phone at the Community Center? And could someone also relay that information to the local Red Cross staff who directed me to Pigeon Forge and gave me the number 865-429-7373. I realize we are in the middle of a disaster, but staff need to relay factual information when someone calls! Who can work on making sure callers receive correct information?
Back to Monty . . . this little precious homeless man with a bag full of dried fruit and nuts. He shuffled alongside me and found a jar of honey roasted nuts which he carefully removed from the shelf and said, “I shore do like me some honey roasted p-nuts. Think I could have these too or do I need to put the walnuts back?”
I opened the bag and said, “Throw ‘em in here. Now, what about coffee? Looks like they have coffee today. I’d get some if I were you, before it’s all gone.”
He settled upon the instant kind, and then plucked a couple packets of instant creamer to go with it.
Monty smiles. “Lawz-a-mercy, I didn’t expect to see those here,” he said as I exchanged his full bag for an empty one. “My people sure know how to help, don’t they?”
“Need peanut butter? Jelly? Crackers?”
Three nods. Three smiles.
“What about chocolate covered cherries?”
“Ooh yes, everyone loves a chocolate covered cherry.”
I feel good, hopeful for Monty’s future. He should qualify for help, please Father let him qualify for help because Lord knows how much he’ll pay in rent.
We progress to the cereal where Monty wants to discuss the nutritional benefit of oatmeal versus Cheerios™.
“Why not get both,” I suggest.
“By golly, I think I will,” Monty says as if having two types of breakfast foods in the pantry is an uncommon luxury.
Monty looks across the aisle, “There’s my buddy,” he says and steps away from our cart to greet his friend.
“Cowboy!” You’re here too, Monty exclaims.
Cowboy turns, his face is lined with worry.
“Lookie here, I got me a redhead,” he said while pulling me toward him in a tight hug. “And I got me a box of Chocolate Covered Cherries. Things is looking up!”
If you are offering housing IN GATLINBURG, send me a comment. Please know that displaced folk who do not have transportation need housing, in Gatlinburg.
Thank you to whoever has donated packs of underwear and cases of chocolate covered cherries and every other lovely item imaginable. Remember NO MORE INKIND DONATIONS ARE BEING ACCEPTED AT THIS TIME. We need volunteers to unload previously donated items. We need you, now. The BEST way to help is take a vacation to Sevierville, TN and come to the distribution center. Hundreds of people are needed. If you can afford it, come with a some money in your pocket to give to someone God places in your path.
Why this matters to me? Read here.
Who was first to help feed the displaced? Jeromy York. Read here and support him.
Additionally: President Obama Declares Sevier-County Disaster Area.
Like this story? Renea is donating the proceeds of her Christmas Story: A Hardscrabble Christmas and In the Garden with Billy to the victims she meets at The Distribution Center. Download it here. And please follow my blog by typing your email into the “Follow” link.
Note: I can NOT add a Paypal Code to this free blog site. I will contact you via email with instructions on how to donate if you desire. Please be patient as this little blog post is getting quite a bit of attention.
Renea Winchester is a traditionally-published author of three books. She is a Jesus lover, a gardener, and a giver of hugs..