Marya Delia Javier, a.k.a. “Mama D” fed the homeless of Skid Row and Hollywood, Cali. for 20 years. Every Sunday she rose early to prepare 500 servings of vegetarian stew. She paid for the food from her disability check, and had a few friends who helped her shop for food, transport the humongous pots and feed the hundreds of homeless in downtown L.A.
She died of cancer on November 10, 2005.
Coordinated with Gainesville’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, the documentary “Living like Mama D” played last night in the Grand Ballroom of the Reitz Student Union. About 200 students and citizens sat in awe as Mama D described her experiences with the homeless.
“Nothing I do can compare with what she did,” said Angie Schwartz, a First Year Florida (FYF) student. Freshmen taking the FYF class were required to attend the lecture.
Mama D grew up in an affluent family in the Philippines.
“In my country, either you have money or you are like a peasant,” she says in the documentary produced by Craig Coogan in 2001.
When she moved to America, she worked in the art department of films such as “Valley Girl” and “National Lampoon’s The Joy of Sex.” Her first encounter with homelessness was when she had to work on a film in downtown L.A. She began to make friends with some of them, getting them to help her with props.
“I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know where to start,” she said.
Thus began her Sunday lunches.
Gordon Tremaine, past president of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless & Hungry, opened the event by telling students what they could do to make a difference.
“First, don’t walk across the street when you see a homeless person. The one thing they all tell me is ‘I just need people to look me in the eye and treat me like a person.'”
He went on to illustrate the concept of legacy, the story a person leaves behind when they die, by telling the story of Teddy Moore.
Teddy was a problem student, “the kind every teacher cringes to see on her class list,” Tremaine said.
One year, he was assigned to Mrs. Tyler. As teachers before her had, she found Teddy annoying, ignorant, “and he smelled bad to boot.” She ignored him as the others had, until he brought her a rhinestone bracelet with a few stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume as a Christmas gift.
“You smell like my mom,” he said. His mother had passed away when he was in the fourth grade.
She decided to begin teaching him after school, and by the end of the year, he had caught up to his classmates. She received a few letters from him over the years: when he was valedictorian at his high school, when he graduated from college and finally when he invited her to his wedding.
“I would like you to sit where my mother would have,” he wrote. “You are the woman who has made a difference in me.”
“That,” Tremaine concluded, “is a legacy.”
Patti Ramey, an advocate of community service, spoke next. She demonstrated the scale of human kindness by asking for six volunteers from the audience.
Each volunteer read a story exemplifying a point on the range of human behavior from a card given to them by Ramey. The first volunteer read the story of a homeless man being beaten to death while others watched and did nothing. The last told the story of Mama D.
“Kindness is a simple gift that doesn’t cost a single thing,” Ramey said.
She encouraged the audience to find a cause and be a leader for it, using the term “servant leader.” A servant leader is someone who listens and empathizes with people and then works toward a solution.
There are 3.5 million homeless people in America. Children make up 1.3 million of these, and 42 percent of them are under the age of five.
Ramey’s single mother raised two children, sometimes telling them, “I ate at work,” so that they could eat. When her mother remarried, her stepfather took her to feed the homeless on Christmas; her mother, a nurse, had to work.
In grad school Ramey worked at the Harvest Hope Food Bank in South Carolina. There she met her “best friend ever.”
Harlan Cobb sorted the moldy bread from the fresh. When he died in his sleep, Ramey panicked.
“I didn’t know how to sort the bread,” she said.
Ramey travels to universities across the country, encouraging students to take part in service programs and telling Mama D’s story.
“I want Mama D to live in everyone.”
I wrote this for Reporting class.