Formerly Homeless Iraq Veterans Light First Candles at The Doe Fund's Christmas Vigil Honoring Mama Doe

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Hundreds Celebrate 25-Year Legacy of Hope and Opportunity for Homeless

Mama Doe was the spark that lit the first candle of hope for New York City's homeless.

On Christmas morning in the Main Hall of Grand Central Terminal, Iraq War veterans participating in The Doe Fund Veterans Program joined the “men in blue” of the organization’s well-known Ready, Willing & Able initiative, as well as community members and Doe Fund supporters, to honor the memory of an elderly homeless woman – known only as “Mama” – who died on a bench in the station’s waiting room on Christmas Day in 1985.

George T. McDonald, The Doe Fund’s Founder and President, fed the homeless in Grand Central for 700 consecutive nights in the mid-1980s, where he befriended Mama and many other homeless individuals who told him of their desire to become self-sufficient. Mama’s passing inspired McDonald to create The Doe Fund, named for the men and women who lived and died anonymously on the streets of New York City. For the past 25 years, The Doe Fund has helped homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals become self-sufficient through paid transitional work, skills training, and job placement.

“Mama did not die in vain,” said George McDonald. “She was the spark that lit the first candle of hope for thousands and thousands of individuals who have used the opportunities provided in her name to create brighter futures for themselves and their children,” he added. “And now, 25 years later, we honor Mama’s legacy of hope and opportunity.”

In 2009, after twenty years of serving veterans through Ready, Willing & Able, The Doe Fund – in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the NYC Department of Homeless Services – created a focused Veterans Program at its Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. With tailored initiatives designed to meet the unique needs of former servicemen, delivered on a dedicated floor of the facility, The Doe Fund Veterans Program has helped hundreds of veterans reintegrate into civilian life, many of whom attended the Christmas vigil.

“This holiday season is a special one for American service members leaving Iraq and reuniting with their families,” said Harriet Karr McDonald, Executive Vice President of The Doe Fund. “But for those who need help rejoining civilian life, our doors will be open,” she added.

Following the lighting of hundreds of candles, attendees’ voices filled the terminal with the sounds of “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Brief reflections on Mama’s legacy were shared by Norman Siegel, civil liberties lawyer; Reverend Alfonso Wyatt, Associate Minister of the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York and member of The Doe Fund’s Board of Directors; George McDonald; and Terrance Coffie, who used Ready, Willing & Able to regain his self-sufficiency.

About The Doe Fund

Headquartered in New York City, The Doe Fund is a $50 million, multi-disciplinary human services agency that helps 1,000 people every day to better their circumstances through programs providing paid work; workforce development and job placement; transitional, supportive, and permanent housing; drug testing and counseling; and comprehensive social and educational services. All once homeless or incarcerated, the “men in blue” of the organization's flagship program, Ready, Willing & Able, can be seen cleaning 150 miles of New York City streets every day, rain or shine. This paid transitional work is the first step they take toward self-sufficiency, and they complete Ready, Willing & Able with full-time, permanent employment, apartments of their own, and their sobriety. To learn more, visit The Doe Fund's website or Facebook page or follow @TheDoeFund on Twitter.

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Lee Alman
lalman@doe.org
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