Lowe's Home Improvement Center of Cleveland has teamed up with the city's "Coat Lady" for a very special Christmas project to benefit more than four dozen of the city's homeless.Diane Heil has spent …
Lowe's Home Improvement Center of Cleveland has teamed up with the city's "Coat Lady" for a very special Christmas project to benefit more than four dozen of the city's homeless.
Diane Heil has spent the past 18 years assisting the community's homeless population, which is much greater than most people realize.
The neighborhood expert on the subject says there are between 300 and 400 homeless in Cleveland, forced into their individual situations for various reasons. Christmas will be much more merry because of the Lowe's project this year.
Heil said Lowe's Manager Shannon Ingram and HR Manager Jill Enlow called her concerning the store's plans. "They said that the store's employees were considering helping the community's homeless this year, instead of buying gifts for children," Heil said.
"They asked me if I could give them a list of homeless individuals, for which they could provide needed gifts," she added.
Heil says she spent three to four days canvassing the areas where her her homeless friends hang out. She compiled 50 names and seven pages of hand-written information about each individual.
The Lowe's employees then created 50 wooden angels, and placed them on the store's Christmas tree. Employees selected an "angel" and purchased clothing items and gifts for the holidays.
Lowe's employees also collected $350 for "The Coat Lady," which she can used to purchased tickets for the homeless on the Cleveland Urban Area Transit System, aka CUATS.
Heil picked up the gift items Wednesday at Lowe's, and she and her husband, Ron, delivered them that evening. The gift items included clothing, shoes, some food and candy, and other needs of the homeless recipients.
Heil, who has grown to accept her efforts with the local homeless as a ministry, says she has been blessed by God to be able to do this.
She does not have any specific individuals to assist her efforts, saying her recruitment comes from partnerships with a number of community churches.
Her work began suddenly, in a very spiritual way, on a very cold February day. She said she and her husband were sitting inside in the warmth of their home watching TV.
A story came on about a man in Chattanooga who had frozen in his tent, though his pet dog was found alive. She said a wave of feeling swept over her, and she began to cry and shake.
"It tore me apart, and I said to myself, 'I have to do something.'"
She started out by going to Cleveland's Emergency Shelter and the New Life Church Community Kitchen to see how she could help the city's homeless.
"I quickly realized it was not only the people at the shelter who needed help, but the people on the street," she said.
That began an 18-year journey, a journey where she is known by almost everyone among our homeless as "The Coat Lady."
The first thing she says is "I couldn't have done this without God's help. He has made everything possible."
She also gives Him credit for many, many miracles. She keeps 15 to 20 coats in the trunk of her vehicle, as well as many other items, and says she has never gone to her trunk and not found the article she needed for a homeless person.
She gave an example of this week's project with Lowe's. She said someone came by Lowe's with a new pair of shoes which he couldn't wear. "He said we probably couldn't find anyone to give them to, because they were size 14," Heil said.
She went on to say the shelter called soon after, asking if she had a pair of shoes for one of their residents. He was barefoot, and his feet were bleeding, but he had a very large foot — a size 14. Heil emphasized that is just one of many, many miracles she has witnessed.
"The Coat Lady" went on to say that the community's homeless need many things, not just clothes and shoes. "Many of them," she said, "Just need a hug."
She told another story of a young man she met at a local convenience store. It was cold and he had on a short-sleeved shirt and was putting $1.47 of gasoline in his vehicle.
She asked him if he had a coat, and he said, "What do you think!" She went to her car, found a new, warm coat and gave it to the young man, who asked her, "What's the catch?" She told him he needed a coat, and God was providing him one (through her)."
Heil said that when she came out of the store, the young man was still there. "He was crying, and said he just wanted to give me a hug."
These are just a couple of the happenings for which Heil says, "I am blessed."
And, it extends to her family. Her husband, Ron, does not venture with his wife to the streets, but she said he is always ready to help when needed — such as Wednesday with the Lowe's packages.
There is also her family. One son, Chris, has been a missionary in Brazil for 17 years, and she proudly exclaimed that he ministers to people on the streets in that country.
A second son, Israel, is in construction work. He also follows his mother's example in stopping along the roadway to help people.
A daughter, Ginger Summerlin, and her husband, are active with The Caring Place in Soddy-Daisy.
She also has six grandsons, adding that they are quick to help when the need arises. They often accompanied her to yard sales, where she searches for items that can be used by her homeless clientele.
Heil's ministry touches many others, and other agencies. She assisted United Way's Sarah Haratine, Center for Social Impact coordinator, in compiling a summary of the community's homeless areas, and the people located there.
She has a close associate in Benton, in Mayor Jerry Stevenson. She said he attempts to help the homeless, and people in need, in his community.
Heil has also worked closely with The Caring Place, The Homeless Veterans Association in Athens, and the Downtown Cleveland Soup Kitchen.
She added that the recent partnership with Lowe's was special. "Shannon, the store manager, said she had never seen her employees with such heart-felt enthusiasm," said Heil.
She also touched on the many wonderful people she has met in her effort, although many of them are homeless.
She pointed to one young man she met recently by the name of Lucas. "He had recently lost his mother, and before that his grandmother had passed. He was now on the streets, but he had not lost his smile or his enthusiasm," she said.
She said when he found out about her plan to deliver the Lowe's packages, he asked if he could help. She said he has since found a job, and is one of the continuing miracles God lets her experience.
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