Walking in their shoes….

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Guests of the Mary's Place luncheon donate shoes for the women. Hot sauce is another popular donation item.

Guests of the Mary’s Place luncheon donate shoes for the women. Hot sauce is another popular donation item.

Your name could be Sally or maybe Debra. And you and your toddler could be homeless, left out in the cold, with no clue of where to go and without a place to lay your heads this very night.

If that’s you – and it wouldn’t take much for any of us to end up homeless — then you’ll be eternally grateful to Mary’s Place, a day shelter established in 1999 in response to the needs of homeless women and children. Since then, Mary’s Place has helped several thousand women and children. Their basic needs are met: meals served, clothing provided, laundry and shower facilities available, medical care secured and ways found to provide for housing and jobs.

Concern for those homeless women and children – the Sallys and Debras — brought more than 600 men and women together Tuesday noon for a Spring Benefit Luncheon at the Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center.

Thankfully, the 600 didn’t come empty handed. They brought checks and credit cards. They also brought shoes, good useable shoes, dozens of them. Some even brought bottles of hot sauce, the result of a plea from J. J. McKay, Mary’s Place board vice president. J.J. thinks that, although nourishing, shelter meals don’t offer enough spice.

In the space of a fast-paced hour, the 600 heard stories drawn from life. They were welcomed by KING-TV’s Lori Matsukawa, they watched young actors create real life stories and they heard about the Breakfast Club, a group of women who volunteer for the task of providing cereal and milk: Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran and sometimes – just for fun — Cocoa Puffs.

Donations raised at Tuesday’s benefit will support the services that Marty Hartman, executive director, and her staff of workers and volunteers provide to homeless women and children. Many have suffered a life-threatening illness, others have lost a job and gone through savings and some are victims of domestic violence. Marty estimates that about 86 percent have suffered abuse. Many arrive with little more than the clothing on their backs.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what else is needed to help. Mary’s Place passed out a sheet with suggestions for possible clubs: a Book Club that would provide crossword and puzzle books as well as reading and coloring books; a Cold Club that would supply aspirin, sinus medicine, Kleenex and throat lozenges; a Night-Night Club specializing in pajamas, blankets and stuffed animals and a Baby Care Club that would donate baby food, formula, diapers, wipes and sippy cups.

The luncheon hour ended with a sing-a-long. The 600 enthusiastically supplied the words for a ballad with a familiar refrain: “Lean on Me when you’re not strong; and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you along.” It’s easy to fathom that the needs are great, but so are the rewards for those who assist in offering a helping hand.

As I left the Fisher Pavilion, one of the 600 guests, a businessman, remarked on how much he was moved by the hour. We agreed that it helps to share a tear or two over lunch and to part with a donation that will be put to good and immediate use.