Holiday cards help the homeless on LA's Skid Row keep in touch with relatives

Skip Matthews and his holiday cards at the Midnight MIssion on LA's Skid Row. Matthews has been coming to the area for 20 years encouraging the homeless to send a note to a loved one.
Skip Matthews and his holiday cards at the Midnight MIssion on LA's Skid Row. Matthews has been coming to the area for 20 years encouraging the homeless to send a note to a loved one. Shirley Jahad/KPCC

It’s simple enough to express your love for someone through a card, especially around the holidays. But when you are homeless, it can be complicated.

Skip Matthews spends each day in December urging people to write home, send mom a note. And he simplifies the process by providing the cards, paying for the postage and making sure it gets mailed.

“Drop her a line. Let her know you’re alive,” Matthews says as men walk by the table lined with holiday cards set up inside the Midnight Mission on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.
 
Matthews has been coming to the area for the past 21 years. The cards on the table feature warm holiday images like faces of Santa Claus or fire places next to decorated trees.

In front of the table is, literally, a window into L.A.’s Skid Row: people milling around, carts filled with personal items, tarps and blankets stacked high. Some of them have been in jail, others struggle with drugs and alcohol. Many are estranged from their families.
 
Stanley Stewart, 54, picks out some cards and sits down to write. He has the broad arms and chest of a body builder. Stewart gets a bit emotional as he talks about the power of lifting the pen and sending the cards. He says his wife was so happy to receive one. And when he heard that: "Oh man. I went to bed with a smile and woke up with a smile."

Some people may think sending a card is a small thing. Stewart says no. 

"When you are off of drugs and alcohol, you get your feelings and emotions back. And you feel lonely because you’re not with your family," Stewart says. "So sending out the cards, that made me feel good."

Matthews says all he wants for Christmas is more stamps to send out more cards. He has mailed about 900 this year.

It may seem like he’s doing this just to help  the down and out. But the counselor says he is also doing it to help affluent kids where he works. Students at Chaminade Middle School in West Hills donate hundreds of boxes of holiday cards each year.

"If you stay out in the valley and you stay in your gated community. And you go to the country club. You become very, very narrow," Matthews says. "This way, man, I’m helping people I don’t know. I'm helping to let their people know they're alive. How simple is that? To let your mom know you’re still alive. It’ll tear your heart out man."

Matthews, 74, says he would like to keep coming to the Midnight Mission each December for another 20 years.

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