By T.J. Banes
Downtown worker, nudged by God, cares for the homeless
Who: Glenda Hoffman is known as “The Chip Lady” among the city’s homeless because several years ago she spent her lunch hour distributing bags of potato chips left over from her daughter’s post-prom event. Now, with the help of about 30 volunteers — including members of her church, Center United Methodist — she prepares sack lunches and feeds 60 to 80 homeless people a day, five days a week.
LENDING A HAND: Glenda Hoffman and co-workers at AT&T spend their lunch hours patrolling the streets Downtown to hand out food and clothing items to the city’s homeless. – SAM RICHE / The Star
Personal: Hoffman, 47, of Mooresville, is a graduate of Franklin Central High School and is a manager at AT&T in Indianapolis. She is married to Andy Hoffman and has three adult children who help in her street ministry.
Why feed strangers? “If you work Downtown, you have to see homeless people. At different points in my life, I’ve thought differently. At one point, I thought, ‘get a job.’ I was focused on Glenda, my children, and my work. Then, one day, God caught me off-guard, gave me a nudge and told me not to ignore these people.”
How did you start? “With a smile. I was so nervous that it took me a month before I could gather enough courage to approach someone.”
What you’ve learned: “I’ve learned that many of these people are educated and have jobs, homes and families. They are down on their luck. There are habituals who stay on the street by choice and there are those who have given up, but it’s not my job to judge them.”
Does your help end with the food you provide? “I also give away coats, scarves and gloves. I can provide up to three prescription glasses a month, and for a time I was putting so many people up in hotel rooms in the winter that I told my husband we could buy a house.” Hoffman also refers people to various local agencies for public assistance.
What did your husband do? “He bought a five-bedroom, rundown house on Sherman Drive. It’s still being refurbished, but it’s a transition place to help men get back on their feet.”
Has it helped someone? “Yes. I have a thousand stories, but one is about a man named ‘Tim.’ I first met him in an alley. He needed glasses, so I took him to his appointment and took him to church with me. Now he attends regularly and has started a job in customer service at the Conrad (hotel).”
Do you ever feel overwhelmed or frustrated? “Sometimes, because it’s very hard to help people move ahead. They can’t get off the concrete, get showered, put on clean clothes and go to work. They have no phone and no driver’s license. I tried for nine months to get one guy a job. I’m still trying and haven’t gotten any calls back for him.”
Can one person make a difference? “Absolutely. Even if you don’t want to help on the street, there’s plenty to do. I have Sunday school kids who write notes to put in the lunches, and I have people help sort clothes. There’s much to be done, and it takes lots of people to do it.”