On Monday, March 30, the Murfreesboro Chick-fil-A promoted a new marketing strategy: if you come in today and order a meal, you get the same meal for free if you return the receipt on April 13.
Instantly, I thought of the homeless population that could return the receipt for a free meal. I ate dinner on March 30 at Chick-fil-A. After I ate, I went around to every table in the restaurant collecting receipts.
On Monday, April 13, I voyaged around Murfreesboro to give a gift of receipts to five homeless people. I had a specific goal to only give receipts to the homeless people that I haven’t met before. In exchange for the free meal receipt, they gave me their stories.
Receipt 1: Trisha
Sitting outside of the Journey Home on a water-speckled bench, Trisha smokes a cigarette. Her beautiful smile never fades as she chats with the man next to her. It’s a gloomy Monday, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Or maybe she just doesn’t mind.
“Hey there,” I say, “I have these receipts you can redeem for a free meal. Would you like one?”
“Well, yes ma’am!” says Trisha excitedly. “Bless you.”
Trisha’s redeemable meal: one spicy chicken sandwich meal and water.
“My name is Darcy. I’m a journalist for the local paper. Is there anything you’d like to share with the community?”
“For two years I was strung out on drugs,” she says animatedly.
Trisha doesn’t struggle to tell me her story. A few of her homeless friends helped in Trisha’s recovery from addiction. She says she was saved in the process of being hospitalized from synthetic weed.
“I went to the Franklin hospital,” says Trisha, “I was thrashing around from seizures.”
When asked if she is homeless, Trisha says she “was lost and now she is found.”
“Do you mind if I take a picture of you for the paper?” I ask.
Trisha says sure and looks away from the camera while eating potato chips out of her left palm. I asked why she didn’t look at the camera but accepted the picture request.
“You have to be careful,” says Trisha, “There are some snakes in the grass.”
Receipt 2: Dustin
The man next to Trisha is young with ice-blue eyes. He looks at me skeptically as I hand him a receipt.
Dustin’s redeemable meal: one small fry and a couple milkshakes.
“Thank you,” he says genuinely.
“Wow . . . you have really cool eyes,” I say.
“You almost convinced me to take a picture for your paper, too,” says the guy, Dustin.
When asked what he would like to share with the community, he says, “God’s really blessed this town.”
“Oh, come on!” says Trisha playfully. “Your testimony can change lives.”
Trisha tells a story about how she shared her testimony with the local paper a while ago. She says it inspired a young girl to clean up from drugs. Dustin doesn’t say anything else, even after hearing Trisha’s encouragement.
Receipt 3: Travis
A slim man with countless tattoos walks out of the Journey Home and joins Trisha and Dustin on the bench.
“Hey, Travis,” I say with a smile.
“Where you been?” he asks. He approaches me with arms out waiting for a hug.
“Busy. With school,” I respond. We hug for a moment then continue catching up.
Although I previously met Travis in the park one day, I explain to him that I am handing out receipts today. As I hand him a receipt, he smiles.
Travis’ redeemable meal: one spicy chicken sandwich.
When asked what he would like to share with the community, Travis responds, saying, “Most of my friends are homeless.” He continued to share his thanks for his helpful friends. Travis mentioned that a few of his homeless friends help take care of his child.
Receipt 4: The Acceptance and Pass
As I walk to leave the Journey Home, I see two elderly African American men chatting on the second bench outside. They pay me no attention as I walk by them. I get closer to my car, and then I turn around on an impulse decision to talk to the two men.
“Hey, fellas!” I say. “What are your names?”
“Now why you wanna know ’dat?” says the man to my right. He is wearing a light-colored windbreaker on and has a shiny bald head.
“Just trying to introduce myself,” I respond. “I’m Darcy.”
“Mm-hmm,” says the right-hand man. He seems to doubt my intentions.
“Well,” I say, “I have these receipts . . .”
As I go on to explain the receipts, they seem interested. Once I mention I am a journalist for the paper, the man on the right turns his head away from me looking away from his friend and myself. He is staring off into the distance.
“What do I gotta do for one of those receipts?” says the man on the left.
“Nothing,” I say. “You just have to go to Chick-fil-A to redeem it.”
The man on the left expresses excitement that there are no strings attached to my offer.
Left man’s redeemable meal: chicken sandwich, fries and kids meal chicken nuggets.
“I pass,” says the man on the right.
“You sure?” I ask. “It’s free food. All you have to do is walk in.”
“Mm-hmm,” says the man.
“Are there any words you’d like to share with the community?” I ask the man on the left.
“Nope! Have a great day,” the man on the left says as a dismissal.
“I’ll pass,” says the man on the right.
Receipt 5: Vivian
The Journey Home is a place to get to know the homeless community, but I decide to make my way over to the Walmart off South Rutherford Boulevard. I specifically have in mind one man who holds a sign reading “Hungry.” He might need this last receipt.
As I am approaching Walmart, I don’t see the hungry man. For that matter, I don’t see anyone. So, I wait for an hour in a nearby parking lot until some panhandlers show up.
I see an elderly woman with hair as white as snow take a seat in an old lawn chair to the left of Dairy Queen. She is holding a sign that reads “I need help with bills and medication, please help me. Thank you.”
“Hey there,” I say to the elderly lady. “What’s your name?”
“Vivian,” she says with tears welling up in her eyes.
I kneel down next to her lawn chair, my knees firmly on the uncomfortable concrete sidewalk. When I ask what’s wrong, she begins to explain her granddaughter married a terrible man 6 years ago. Her granddaughter is a victim of domestic violence; her husband knocked her teeth out and threatened to kill her and her two children.
After a long emotional battle, Vivian finally got her granddaughter to move back home. Her granddaughter now has a job at Kroger and has filed a domestic violence report with the state.
“DHS is a joke,” says Vivian. “The most money they’d give her was $135 a month.”
Vivian is now trying to pay bills, but her medical condition is preventing her from getting a job. Her 75-year-old husband is applying for jobs but has been denied from every company due to his age. Vivian says her husband has no medical issues and has a great work ethic.
“I’m the one with issues,” whimpers Vivian. “My medication went from $12 to $90. That, on top of bills, we just couldn’t make it.”
I offer Vivian the last free meal receipt, but she denies my proposal. She says she doesn’t need food. Vivian utilizes the Journey Home, Greenhouse Ministries and food stamps for food sources. She says they are great help, but she needs to pay her bills.
“We aren’t homeless,” says Vivian, “but we are getting there.”
She isn’t proud of panhandling. Vivian describes begging as a last resort for money and it makes her feel cheap. She says people stare at her and it’s embarrassing.
“I used to work for the county,” she says, “and now this?”
A few tears slowly roll down Vivian’s soft, wrinkly cheeks.
“When you’re trying to make ends meet, this is what you have to do,” says Vivian. “Maybe we shouldn’t have gone into debt to get her home . . .”
Vivian pauses to stare at the people stopped at her location. They stare at her, and she stares right back. Silence. The people turn right, driving away from Dairy Queen and away from Vivian.
“. . . but we couldn’t sleep at night,” she continues.
“Are you sure you couldn’t use some more food?” I ask. “What about the kids?”
“Well,” Vivian becomes quiet for a moment to think. “I suppose I could give it to my granddaughter.”
Vivian’s redeemable meal: chicken sandwich, fries and a milkshake.
I hand Vivian the receipt with a smile. As I stand up from my nice concrete seat (the sidewalk), I tell Vivian it was very nice to meet her. With her eyes drowning in tears about to overflow, she says goodbye.
As I get back into my car, I sit for a second with the door open. I remember a poster I had on my wall growing up. It was a Volkswagen Beetle poster with a new green bug popping off the page. When I was younger, I told myself I was going to buy that car.
My dad bought his first car when he turned 15, just so he could sit in it for a whole year in his garage. He couldn’t even drive for another whole year. I figured, if dad can buy his own car at just 15 years old, I could too. Just after my 15th birthday, I bought my own VW bug and got a hardship license to drive. I now drive that dream car: A green 2002 Volkswagen Beetle.
Now I can’t help but think that Vivian’s granddaughter looks up to her just like I looked up to my dad. As sad as Vivian is right now, she always has her family, who are thankful for her support. Maybe her granddaughter wants to be just like her someday: a beautiful, strong woman who can support a family.