Special to The Californian
When 16-year-old Sean Lozano barely survived a 600-foot fall down a Switzerland mountain in June 2004, his grandmother, Freda Kubas-Doyle, did not want to end the year without expressing how grateful she felt that he was still alive.
"She said, 'I have to do something to thank God for doing this,' " her daughter, Sean's mother, Shelly Lozano said.
So for Christmas 2004, Kubas-Doyle decided to feed and clothe the homeless at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Although she lives 50 miles away in Glennville with her husband, Bill Doyle, Kubas-Doyle said she chose MLK Park for "the feed," as she calls it, "because it was the worst park and it was an inner-city park and we wanted to get to where the most people in need are."
But then, about two weeks after Christmas, "I had a dream," she said. "The Lord told me those people are hungry more than just at Christmastime."
"My husband is of the same heart as I am," she said, so she shared the dream with him. Funding the feed themselves, they were hoping to do it every other month but willing friends chipped in.
"If you'll do it every month, we'll help," Kubas-Doyle said her friends told her.
She named the effort Hearts for the Hungry, and the interdenominational Christian volunteer group has been providing warm food, blankets, clothing and personal hygiene goods to the homeless in the park on the third Saturday of every month since.
On March 18, Kubas-Doyle and a handful of others, among them Sean's mom and his younger brother Spencer, a student at Liberty High School, were manning picnic tables laden with food and clothing.
"This is our fifteenth month, and we're so proud," Kubas-Doyle said. "These people expect us. They know we're gonna be here. Some of them call me 'Mom.'"
"I come here all the time," said Betty Kirkham, who has been homeless for two years and lives in the park. She said she "just walked up" one day when she saw Hearts for the Hungry giving away food, clothing, even feminine napkins. She said her fellow homeless think the program is great.
"They are so humble. They are so appreciative," Kubas-Doyle said about the people she clothes and feeds. She always likes to serve warm food, she said, and to vary the menu so they have something different to look forward to each time.
Saturday's menu was Mexican food and St. Patrick's Day cookies and oranges for dessert. There was also milk, hot cocoa, coffee and bottled water.
The hot cocoa, Kubas-Doyle said, was for the homeless children.
Hearts for the Hungry even has disposable diapers on hand for the tiniest homeless who come with their parents to eat.
"We don't give them money," Kubas-Doyle said. But there is always food, clothes, lots of blankets and at Christmastime, new gloves, hats and socks.
"And a full Christmas meal," she said. "Whatever we get to eat, they get to eat," she said.
Kubas-Doyle remembered the hard times in her own life when she was growing up.
She said when she was 6 years old, her father died and had to be buried in a pauper's grave because her family was "dirt poor." They picked cotton, she said. "When I outgrew my shoes, my mother cut out the toes so I would have shoes to wear," she said.
She takes care to let friends and neighbors know what kinds of gifts she will accept for Hearts for the Hungry.
"I tell them, do not bring me rags ... . Do not bring me jackets that are missing buttons because these people have their dignity," she said.
Kubas-Doyle recognizes that Hearts for the Hungry could not survive on her efforts alone. She is grateful for the help of family, friends and businesses that donate to the cause, she said.
She said she plans to continue feeding and clothing the homeless in the park "until we're all so old and crippled that we can't walk anymore."
"We can never give enough for Sean's life," she said.
"Maybe we can hand the legacy to our children and grandchildren," she said. "That would be the best. If my grandchildren could say, 'Grandma, there's no more homeless.'
"If each of us went out and found one homeless person to feed," she said, "there would be no more homeless people."
For information on how to get involved with Hearts for the Hungry, e-mail Freda Kubas-Doyle at Hearts4theHungry@aol.com.