A Warm Atmosphere at a Hypothermia Shelter

Soft, melodic piano chords fill the sanctuary of the Church of St. Clement in Alexandria, Va., early one morning. I get up from my cot to investigate. A man is thoughtfully creating music on the church piano. He pauses between chords, listening, thinking. “That’s beautiful,” I tell him. “You must be a professional.” Yes, he was, the former hip-hop musician tells me. He continues, speaking softly, gesturing with his hands. “Creating music is like building with Legos. It’s all about building …

Helping to End Poverty, One Person at a Time

“What does the world need me to do?” When Mark Bergel, 51, asked himself that question, his answer was to start A Wider Circle, a nonprofit in Silver Spring, Md., that provides everything from furniture to job training and clothing to support those in need. Now, 13 years later, Bergel, who serves as the organization’s executive director, is on a mission: End poverty in America. As I sort and fold donated baby clothes in the organization’s huge warehouse, Bergel, a 2014 CNN …

How to Find Reward by Working With Those in Need

As Maureen McCarty and I meet with Maria (not her real name), I realize the compounded struggles of the poor. Maria’s English speaking and comprehension are limited. She and her husband are separated. Her son’s health issues complicate her search for work. And at this moment, with area rents topping $1,000 a month, even for a small apartment, Maria needs rent assistance. Can we help her? Each Wednesday morning, McCarty and other finance counselors who volunteer with a Christ Church’s …

A Holiday Surprise: Learning How to Give

There’s a woman in my town who seems to be everywhere. She is of indeterminate age, and whether she’s at the Metro or the farmers market, she asks passersby for money. Sometimes she sells the homeless newspaper. She usually talks in a kind of sad, downbeat monotone. I saw her at the market Sunday, and it was pretty cold. When she said she needed a few bucks for a meal at our local cafe, I said I’d walk down with her …

One Man’s Secret to Playing a Great Santa

Edward Lacy, 56, has a secret identity. Once a year, Lacy transforms into a superhero more powerful than Superman and Batman combined. Without a cape or Batmobile, he flies around the globe in 24 hours, squeezes down chimneys and visits every child in the world. Yes, Lacy is Santa Claus for the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority in Virginia. The rest of the year he’s the authority’s ombudsman. A week before Christmas, I play elf to Lacy’s jolly St. Nick …

Why Delivering Meals On Wheels Gives So Much More

“I love to eat,” says Tom Irvin, 85, as we loaded up his Toyota with the day’s Meals On Wheels deliveries. “I know how important food is.” So when a neighbor asked Irvin to join her on a Meals On Wheels delivery seven years ago, it was a perfect fit to him. Today, he distributes hot and cold meals several times a week as one of the 250 volunteers with Senior Services of Alexandria. “This is my way of giving …