I have not blogged since 9/11 when I posted my annual remembrance of Jeffrey Gardner, a childhood friend who perished in the World Trade Center. A lot of things have been banging around in my head, half-baked and not written. They will come soon, really soon I hope.
Today, though I want to pause on Veteran’s Day to remember another friend, Jimmy Proffitt. Jimmy passed away last month after a long battle with leukemia. If there ever were people who epitomized the term “salt of the earth” it was Jimmy and his widow Virginia. He was a man of modest means who made an enormous difference in the lives of veterans and homeless people in Chicago. His energy and his dedication to his fellow humans inspired me and everyone who came in contact with him. His death leaves a void, to be sure, but his mark on his community will be felt for years to come.
My notes from last Veteran’s Day:
More than 25 years ago, Jimmy and Virginia found themselves with leftover Thanksgiving dinner. They made about 30 sandwiches and a thermos of coffee and headed to downtown Chicago. Once there, they found homeless men and distributed the food. Recognizing the incredible need, Jimmy and Virginia continued to make sandwiches for Chicago’s homeless. Every Sunday, with the exception of Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day weekends, they circle Chicago’s loop with their small army of helpers. The Chicago Homeless Sandwich Project today distributes more than 1,500 bagged lunches each week. They also provide hot and cold beverages, clothing, and a ready smile to the increasing number of homeless on our city’s streets.
We have been privileged to ride with Jimmy many times, handing out sandwiches and seeing firsthand the need he fills. Jimmy tells us that more than 75% of the homeless on our city streets are veterans, men (and now women) who have come home from war so damaged that they cannot hold a job, or who lost everything while they were serving (job, home, family) and have not been able to get back on their feet.
Jimmy was called to serve his country, and while his own life has been modest compared to many more visible philanthropists, he may be the most philanthropic person I know. Next to the hospital that saved our child, The Sandwich Project is our favorite charity and I encourage to click the link above, read about the supplies they use each year, and find out how you can help.
I wish I had thought to call him a “veteran’s veteran,” but I give all credit to the headline writers of The Herald News. What does that mean? Well, it means that Jimmy continued to serve his country and brothers long after he left the Marines. If our actions define the name we leave in the world, Jim Proffitt left an illustrious name, one which we should all strive to emulate.
May his memory be for a blessing
–“Joining to Bid Farewell to and Almost Homeless Veteran,” The New York Times, 2/5/2011 by Don Terry