With cancelled events, limited outings and restricted visits being the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alonzo family has taken to cycling around downtown West Palm Beach.
“We ride our bikes along Flagler Avenue a lot and pass through Currie Park,” said Laura Alonzo. “We noticed that there are many homeless men and women there; more than usual because of the pandemic.”
Laura and her husband Mike are parents to St. Ann School students Ronan and Olivia, who are entering second grade and kindergarten, respectively. They live close to the historic church and school in West Palm Beach and have been spending much of their time taking in the neighborhood sites.
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our family has been talking a lot about how this could be drastic for the homeless people in our community. We have gotten to know some of them at Currie Park and we often stop to say hello,” said Laura.
Laura used these conversations as an opportunity to inquire about how these individuals are coping with the affects of the pandemic and what supplies might help them during this time of need. Various replies echoed personal hygiene products and gear to sleep outdoors. Laura took this message home to her husband and in-laws and together they organized backpack care packages filled with essential products such as wash cloths, soap, sanitizer, shampoo, sanitary napkins, ponchos, blow up pillows, sun screen, bug spray and other necessities. The Alonzo’s assembled 50 backpacks filled with supplies ordered in bulk using their own funds.
Although Laura felt deeply for the homeless men and women, she was moved more so by her son’s determination to contribute to their cause. “As I loaded up my car with the backpacks, Ronan—without being asked—quietly began helping me. He said that he wanted to help the homeless people too and asked if he could come with me to hand them out. I was hesitant at first because I would have to trust him to keep his mask on the whole time and keep to social distancing, but I said ‘ok’ and we visited the park.”
Laura expressed that in the time the adults in the family had been organizing their plan, her children had been observing their actions. “Ronan has always been a sweet boy but, that day he took me by surprise. Suddenly, he seemed so much older than he is.”
This lead-by-example spirit is something that Laura inherited from her Irish-born parents. “I’m originally from Dublin, where you will see many homeless about. My parents taught me that it’s important to stop and speak to these individuals, who are so often treated like they’re not people. We take our situation for granted; homelessness can happen to anyone,” Laura added humbly.
It was clear Laura has gotten to know the homeless at Currie Park well from her mention of a select few who sleep under the park gazebo. She made a point to leave a backpack for a man named Tony who she believed was able to find work for a few days.
After distributing the backpacks to those present at Currie Park, the Alonzo’s packed up the remaining 42 care packages and were headed home. Ronan, however, had a different idea. “Ronan suggested to me that we go to St. Ann Place to see if there was anyone there who needed a backpack. There were five more people there who we were able to assist.”
The Alonzo’s kept a few backpacks in the trunks of their cars incase they came across another person in need. “We’ve handed out all the packs now, but we know there is more we can do. We hope to continue reaching out as best we can.”
To contribute to local homeless outreach programs in the Diocese of Palm Beach, visit ccdpb.org/covid-19-pandemic-response/. To contact St. Ann Place in West Palm Beach, visit stannplace.org/ or call (561) 805-7708.