'I wanted to do something to help': Retired soldier, friends feed homeless
By Howard Altman | Tampa (Fla.) Tribune | Published: January 8, 2014
Wednesday mornings start early in the Dolasky house.
“My wife started cooking eggs at 4:20 this morning,” says Kent Dolasky, a retired Army sergeant major, standing on a sidewalk near Tampa, Fla., shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday, one of the year’s coldest mornings.
Dolasky says his wife cooked up 66 eggs, two pounds of ham and three pounds of sausage.
The couple then filled about two dozen burritos, wrapped them in tinfoil and packed them up.
The food, along with a large container of piping hot coffee, wasn’t for Dolasky’s coworkers at the Joint Special Operations University at MacDill Air Force Base. It was for the homeless, who began lining up before 7 a.m. under the overhang across from Tampa City Hall, knowing Dolasky would show up with food, coffee and clothing.
The burritos quickly disappeared, as about a dozen homeless eat what they can and stuff the extra sandwiches into pockets.
It’s a weekly routine that started in November 2010 on a much more modest basis. “I would drive downtown and see all these people cold and miserable,” says Dolasky, who retired from the Army in 2012 and now works as an instructor. “I wanted to do something to help.”
At first, that something was simple, taking an old backpack, filling it with clothes and toiletries and giving it to a homeless man, Dolasky says.
“I would see him walking around with the backpack and wearing the sweatshirt and could see it was making a difference.”
So he expanded his output, providing clothing items for many and adding food to his repertoire.
At one point, Dolasky and a group of helpers, which on this morning included an editor from Booz Allen Hamilton and another JSOU instructor, began serving pancakes until police interceded.
“I guess they didn’t want us setting up a smorgasbord,” says Dolasky, 46, of Riverview, Fla., bracing himself against the bitter chill as he hands out socks and gloves in addition to the foil-wrapped breakfast burritos.
The effort, he says, is more than just about food.
“We are only out here once a week. But what we are trying to do is to reach out and find out what they need and let them know that someone cares."
Mike Walker, the first in line for food, says the gesture is heartily welcomed.
“It helps relieve the hunger pangs,” says Walker, 46, who has been on the streets for two years after being laid off from his construction job. “Living on the streets is rough. I sleep wherever I can.”
Carrying a pack with “about 10 blankets,” Walker says that being homeless means “always worrying about someone stealing your stuff, or getting attacked.”
Ryan Childers, 31, has been on the streets for about two months, since coming to Tampa from Syracuse, N.Y., where he, too, used to work in construction. Aside from the food and clothing, he says he appreciates the human warmth provided by Dolasky and company.
“It’s nice that someone comes out here and cares, instead of being nasty or walking past us trying not to look at us,” he says.
All told, about 20 homeless have showed up, a much smaller crowd than Christmas. “It’s so cold that a lot of people probably went to shelters,” Dolasky says.
Brian Bailey, an Air Force combat controller veteran and fellow JSOU instructor, jokes with Dolasky about his work. “You should have a halo over your head,” says Bailey.
But he, too, helps.
Bailey has taken some homeless to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get identification. “You can’t work without that,” he says.
Anna Wyant, an editor with Booz Allen, says that, like Dolasky and Bailey, she comes out as often as possible to do what she can. “There is a real need that is not being met,” she says.
For Dolasky, meeting that need doesn’t always end on a cold Tampa street.
“On Christmas day, I called my wife and told her to expect company,” he says.
A mom and her adult daughter, whom he knows only as Lisa and Clarissa, were living on the streets, and Dolasky invited them over for Christmas dinner.
“We got them showers and clothes,” he says. “They were in much better shape after that,” he says.
But their story, like so many homeless men and women, is a cautionary tale. “Lisa is looking for an apartment in Tampa but only receives $720 a month on Social Security,” he says. “So it is hard for her to get off the streets.”
As long as there are Lisas and Clarissas, Dolasky and his team will be back at it again next week, with his wife again whipping up a breakfast feast.
“There are still so many people who need help,” he says. “So we do what we can.”