Ladonna Blake’s Facebook post about her father, Freddie Blake, a homeless amputee who panhandled near Perkins off the I-70 East Oglebay Exit, has gone viral, bringing much attention to the homeless in the Ohio Valley. She’ll be in town Saturday, Feb. 24, as Project HOPE hosts its first Winter Walk, “Walk a Mile in THEIR Shoes.”
“This is our chance to link arms with those who call Wheeling’s streets home and to walk humbly through our city’s streets in the cold to bring awareness and solutions to homelessness,” said Crystal Bauer, a nurse and director of Project HOPE. “It is our chance to show our most vulnerable population that this city cares about their lives and to affirm our commitment to do all it takes to ease their struggle.”
Freddie Blake stood, on crutches, in all kinds of weather — heat, cold, rain, snow — handing out his “Free Ticket to Heaven” cards, whether you gave him money or not. Blake’s children, Ladonna of Clarksburg, Amy of Columbus and Michael of Moundsville, will be passing out those cards on Saturday during the event.
Bauer said that Ladonna’s post has been seen by 122,000 and has been shared 2,000 times. “We had no idea it would go viral.” In the post, Ladonna explained how her dad struggled with addiction throughout his life, but that he also taught her about people and service to others.
Winter Walk participants will have an opportunity to walk through the city, past community partners who work together to care for the homeless population in Wheeling. It begins and ends at The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, where breakfast will be provided for those who have walked the walk.
Bauer has organized the event to raise awareness as well as to raise money for the organization – an organization that receives no city, no state and no federal funding. She recently received $90,000 in grants, and one of the stipulations was to hold fundraisers. This walk is the first fundraiser for Project HOPE. They hope to raise $10,000 through the walk.
PROJECT HOPE’S GOAL
The biggest goal of Project HOPE, Bauer explained, is to “take care of people on street rounds, getting them connected to primary care through Health Right and Family Medicine at Wheeling Hospital.”
And they are “definitely saving lives” and “making an impact,” she shared.
The homeless population uses the emergency room at a higher rate than the general population, so by using Health Right and the hospital’s family medicine services, Project HOPE is saving taxpayers money and lessening the burden on the health care system, Bauer explained.
Project HOPE volunteers make rounds throughout the city to check on the health of homeless men, women and children. They go to the Winter Freeze Shelter, to outdoor encampments, to the Northwood Homeless Shelter and the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter. On Saturday mornings from 9-11 a.m., Bauer and her team visit the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center.
The team, she said, includes a variety of disciplines so that many services can be offered off-site — mental health, pastoral care, veterans services, addiction and others. They have nurses, doctors, a physicians assistant, a respiratory therapist, a pulmonary specialist, just to name a few.
“We do not bill for any of our services,” she said.
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“The cool thing is we have residents who filter through,” she said. One of the hardest things among the homeless population is trust, she noted, and when a homeless person sees someone they’ve had contact with, such as a resident, he feels less intimidated. Treating the homeless as human beings and listening to them is most important, she noted. “We’re meeting them where they’re at.”
Preregistration begins at 7 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling.
“100 percent of the funds raised will go toward purchasing medical equipment like podiatry kits, examination tables, dressing supplies, new orthopedic shoes for someone and to pay for respite in a hotel after surgery,” Bauer said. “Please know that your generous gift of $50 is going to be a small amount of money that makes a tremendous impact in the life of a person who can never repay you.
“You don’t have to donate to attend, and you aren’t required to attend if you donate online, but we HOPE to see you there,” Bauer said.
LADONNA’S FACEBOOK POST
“My name is Ladonna Blake, my dad was Freddie Blake. Most of you recognize him as the amputee that panhandled at the Perkins intersection, off the Oglebay exit. My dad was married and divorced, had three children myself, Amy Blake and Michael Blake, we lived in Moundsville, WV. My dad wasn’t the type of dad to tuck us in every night with a bedtime story, he wasn’t a ‘good night I love you’ with a kiss on the forehead type of dad.
“My dad struggled with addiction his entire life. My dad did serve time in and out of prison related to addiction, after his last release he was doing well. He had an apartment, a car, and income, but it wasn’t long that he slipped back into his addiction and lost it all. He was sleeping under the Mt. Mt. DeChantal bridge by the intersection.
“I remember him calling and telling me about Crystal Bauer, a nurse that was trying to help him . He talked about how nice she was what good work she did through Project HOPE. He even said once that he wanted to help by preaching to people, but his addiction got the best of him again.
“My dad called me the night before he died, he told me he loved me and he just couldn’t do this life anymore. I learned the next day that he was dead. See even though I didn’t get the, ‘good night I love you,’ I want to thank him for making me the person I am. He taught me about people, and about service to others.
“My dad died the way he lived, by his own set of rules. He was definitely one of a kind.
“I am thankful to Dr. [William] Mercer and Crystal Bauer for their work and for the help they gave my dad. When you pass by those who are begging, just try to remember how blessed you are that you are not in their shoes.
“My siblings and I feel that sharing this story about our dad will allow people to connect with the humanity that we all share. It should serve as a testimony that addiction destroys not only the addict but the people who love them. We hope that members of the community will join in support of what Project HOPE is doing and that in supporting them you know you are helping them to help others.”