West End Woman Reaches Out to Help the Homeless
Four decades ago, Brenda Burt made her home in an abandoned car in a wooded area of Fayetteville.
The ink still fresh on her high school diploma, Burt had been turned out of her childhood home because the household rule was that children moved out of the house at the age of 18.
Her 18th birthday coincided with her high school graduation, so the very next day, she hitchhiked her way to Fayetteville.
“When I was 18, my friends went off to college, and I went under the bridge,” says Burt.
Within one day of arriving in Fayetteville, Burt secured a job at an A & W as a roller-skating carhop. During the day, she looked like everyone else, but each night she returned to the junk car where she soon found she had a roommate, a black snake.
Burt learned to scare the snake away by banging on the car. That problem solved, she discovered a bigger hitch. The woods were infested with rats that were drawn to the smell of her clothes.
“I’d come back from work smelling like hamburgers and fries, and the rats would want to come get me,” Burt says.
The previously unwelcome black snake proved to be her protector because it ate the rats.
Burt named the snake Pearl and learned to co-exist with it, though she still chased it out of the car each time she came back from work.
One night in the back of the restaurant, Burt encountered a group of men who became her guardians and played a major role in helping her. The men were scrounging in the dumpster for food, and she asked why they were there. They told her they were homeless Vietnam War veterans who couldn’t find jobs.
Burt told them she was homeless, too. The men did not believe her at first, but once she convinced them, they adopted her. Burt says they became her friends and kept her safe.
The veterans heard about a woman who was renting out a room in her house and told Burt to move there. They encouraged her to go back to school, and she did. Three years after her high school graduation, Burt owned a home.
That life behind her, Brenda did not tell anyone about her past for many years, not even her husband, Ron. The couple has been married for 20 years, and it was only a couple of years ago that Ron heard her story. He was flabbergasted.
“When I met her, she had two businesses, two homes, two vehicles and two kids,” he says.
Burt decided to be open about her former homelessness because she wanted to help the individuals and families in Moore County who are without a home.
She is fulfilling her desire through GodSent Angels Mission, a volunteer organization she and Ron launched two years ago.
It provides food, clothes, personal care products, blankets and furnishings to the more than 200 homeless people in Moore County. They do so at no cost to those they help.
The couple also meet a need sometimes overlooked: personal hygiene.
As owner of Pinehurst Barber Shop, Ron gives free haircuts to the homeless and invites them to take showers in his shop, located near the Pinehurst post office. He is currently building a portable shower that the mission can take right to the homeless on a regular basis.
Meeting the homeless face-to-face on their turf is at the root of GodSent Angels Mission.
Several times a week, the Burts fill a van and borrowed trailer with donations and deliver them to where the homeless live.
When the couple first started making deliveries, they left the items in areas they heard were occupied by homeless people, but they never saw anyone. That changed over time as the homeless grew accustomed to seeing Brenda and Ron and realized they presented no threat.
Now the homeless come out of hiding when they see the familiar GodSent Angels Mission van, and they talk with Brenda and Ron.
“We’re unique because we’re the only ones who take the supplies right to them (the homeless),” Ron says. “There’s a trust there that you can’t break with people.”
Brenda views the trust as the basis for a cycle, one that is the polar opposite of the cycle of poverty.
“They (the homeless) aren’t going to be there forever,” she says. “They’ll get on their feet, and then they’ll help other people.”
Burt’s own life is clearly the model for GodSent Angels Mission, and both were acknowledged this past spring when she received the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.
Burt received the award at a reception in Raleigh, where she met Gov. Bev Perdue. The governor shook hands with Brenda and Ron and told them she was impressed with their work.
Burt is delighted to receive the award not for the recognition, but because she hopes the award will raise awareness of the needs in Moore County and subsequently motivate people to donate items.
She emphasizes that the organization accepts “everything a person could use in a home.”
GodSent Angels Mission accepts donations at three locations, all of which are listed on its website, www.GodSentAngels .blogspot.com.
Burt says their most pressing need right now is for food.
“If I hadn’t been homeless, I don’t know if I would be doing this,” Burt says.
Lest she ever forget, Brenda named her black Volkswagen Pearl — after the snake she shared a car with.
Contact freelance writer Melanie Coughlin at email@example.com.
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