The Good Steward

Today we’re sharing another moving story from The Salvation Army Massachusetts, as told by Donor Relations Director Larry Grazio. It’s an amazing account of a boy who truly had nothing. But now that he’s grown up and successfully established,  he never forgot the support and love shown him by The Salvation Army during his most difficult times.

He got his clothes from a Salvation Army thrift store. He got his food from a Salvation Army pantry and the first Christmas gift he ever received came from a Salvation Army Officer.  He literally has walked in the shoes of the poorest of the poor.  These experiences as a child had such a profound effect on him and created empathy so deep that, today, he is one of the most generous donors to The Salvation Army of Massachusetts.  So modest is this man though that he does not want his name publicized – so I’ll call him Michael.

Michael escaped with his mother from an Eastern European Communist country. Unfortunately the Communists killed his father, older brother, three uncles and a nephew. He immigrated to New York City because he had been told that the streets there were paved with gold.  When he got there, however, he quickly learned differently–to survive, he had to eat out of garbage cans. Then he found The Salvation Army, and his life began to change.

Eventually, he moved to Boston where he got his first job:  selling magazines door-to-door in the Uphmans Corner area of Dorchester.

Today Michael is an extremely generous, Godly man who owns a successful investment company.   He has always told me if we need help, just let him know; and he has always come through.  His concern for the basic needs of the poor is so real that if Michael makes a designated gift for a special capital project, he will always make a gift of equal size for basic services.  Michael puts people above projects.

As a young boy, Michael was given a scholarship to attend The Salvation Army’s Camp Wonderland in Sharon, MA.   He told me that in those days all the boys put Brylcreem or Vitalis Hair Tonic in their hair to slick it back, but because he was so poor, he could not afford that.  So one day he put lard in his hair and combed it all back.  Getting on the bus that day for camp, he was very proud.  He sat down in his seat for the ride to camp, and then….the sun shone through the window…. and the lard melted all down his face.  He was mortified by his desperation to hide his extreme poverty.

However, he proudly told me this last story:  he was playing baseball at camp; it was the 9th inning, two outs, his team was losing.  He came to the plate.  With a full-count, he hit a dramatic game-winning walk off home run– but fell rounding second base and broke his arm.  The camp counselors took Michael to the hospital.  When he got there, the Red Sox were also losing in the 9th inning with three men on.  At that moment, Ted Williams came to the plate – just like Michael – and hit a game-winning walk off grand slam – just like Michael – and won the game – just like Michael!  Michael was feeling pretty special right about then!  Despite having broken his arm that day, Michael will tell you that “that baseball game was one of his single best childhood memories”.

This past August, TSA of MA had a matching gift challenge that Michael participated in with a generous gift.  Now, as the year is coming to a close, he read that gift income is down, need is up and more people than ever before are asking for our help with the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

In yet, another act of extraordinary kindness, Michael called to offer us a $175,000 matching challenge grant to encourage other donors – first-time or long-time — to continue to help those in need because he knows what it’s like to feel that kind of pain, fear and desperation.

Although Michael no longer gets his clothes from a Salvation Army Thrift Store or his food from a Salvation Army food pantry, he has never forgotten the help The Army gave him.  He just wants to make sure that The Army can continue to provide help to those in need – the way they provided for him so many years ago.