Candlelight Vigil for Homeless Draws Hundreds to Grand Central on Christmas

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Founder of The Doe Fund calls for "humanity and opportunity" at stirring tribute to lives lost to homelessness in New York City.

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Attendees at The Doe Fund's annual Christmas Day Candlelight Vigil sing "Amazing Grace."

All lives have value. What we all need is opportunity so that value can shine through!

At 11 o'clock Christmas morning, hundreds of people, many of them formerly homeless, gathered at Grand Central Station to pay tribute to individuals who have perished on New York City streets and to remember one woman, in particular: Mama Doe.

The event is an annual holiday tradition started by George McDonald, founder and president of The Doe Fund, one of the nation's most respected homeless services organizations.

"We're here to honor the life of Mama Doe," began McDonald, who addressed the crowd at the vigil's start, "a dear friend who died here nearly thirty years ago after she was forced out into the cold on Christmas Eve." Mama Doe, a woman who lived in Grand Central while McDonald was feeding the homeless there, was the inspiration for The Doe Fund.

"All lives have value. Homeless lives have value," McDonald continued. "What we all need is opportunity, so that value can shine through."

The Reverend Alfonso Wyatt also spoke, directing his remarks to the "men in blue"-- formerly homeless men in The Doe Fund's Ready, Willing & Able program who attended in uniform. "The train is leaving!" he urged. "The train to a better life is in the station. You have to make sure you have your ticket; you need to get your ticket and get on that train!" The crowd cheered in response.

Recalling the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights attorney Norman Siegel told the vigil's crowd, "It truly is what's in your mind and what's in your heart that matters. That is what makes us who we are, not our pasts, not our skin color, not whether you have a home or not."

Charles Bryant, who himself had experienced homelessness and incarceration after the death of his mother when he was a teenager, was the morning's final speaker. Bryant graduated from The Doe Fund and now works for the organization.

"I don't think my mother or Mama Doe would want us to be sad today. Because we've saved ourselves, and we've saved each other," he said. "And today, on Christmas, we're all brothers and sisters here, from the same family."

The program concluded with a candle lighting ceremony. When the hall was fully illuminated, singer-songwriter Lindsay Ellyn led the crowd in rounds of "Amazing Grace" and "This Little Light of Mine."

The vigil comes in advance of The Doe Fund's 30th anniversary and ahead of a major expansion for the organization, which was announced earlier this year.

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Alexander Horwitz
The Doe Fund
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