A few days after “snowmageddon,” Cambridge’s Harvard Square is slowly getting back to normal. Jon Denning, one of Spare Change News’ younger vendors, greets me as I pass his usual spot in front of Qdoba. He’s smiling.
“Man, it’s not so bad tonight,” he says, alluding to the below-zero temperatures he’s endured for the past few weeks without shelter. Denning, who I first met on the streets holding a sign that read “the homeless has a dream, too!” in January, shows off the new pair of size-13 shoes donated to him by Communities Offer Practical Encouragement or C.O.P.E. Thanks to several successful nights selling Spare Change News, Denning managed to raise enough money for a hotel room when the winter storm was at its worst. He’s rested and happy.
As we’re talking, a kind older gentleman hands over a green sleeping bag. Denning says “God bless you” and the man walks on. Denning explains that he held up a sign yesterday that read “need survival gear” and the community responded.
“It’s amazing what people will do if you just ask for help,” he says. “I’ve had all kinds of signs and it’s become the way I communicate with people, especially those who normally just ignore me. It’s weird, the misfits are the ones who seem to understand most.”
Denning talks about one of his earlier signs that read, “I am something.” Denning tells me that an older homeless guy told him to change the sign to “I am someone.” Denning says the man insisted that he was “not a thing. You are someone. Don’t ever forget that.”
He thanks me again for the shoes. But, they aren’t from me. The Hingham-based group Spare Change News profiled last week, called C.O.P.E., donated them after I posted an online plea.
After our last issue, Joan and Katie from C.O.P.E. dropped off handfuls of “blessing bags,” including several pairs of much-needed boots for our vendors. There was so much joy in our Old Cambridge Baptist Church office when the two women dropped off the donations. In fact, our longest-serving vendor Algia Benjamin was putting plastic bags around his feet to keep out the cold, wet snow. Now, he has brand-new shoes.
When C.O.P.E. handed out the blessing bags, we all hugged. It felt like a big family gathering. For the first time in years, our group of hard-working vendors were no longer invisible. They felt loved… like they were somebody. It made me smile.