A Christian homeless man will be eating Thanksgiving dinner with a generous family this holiday after his plea for a special meal reached the hearts of thousands of people last week.
Neal Shytles posted a simple want ad on the Facebook page of Norfolk, Virginia's Fox affiliate, Fox 43. In the ad, he expressed his desire to not be lonely this year and actually sit down to eat Thanksgiving dinner with a family. While it seemed like a humble request, it's a situation many take for granted.
"It would mean so much, because you know like I said, I'm lonely and it's just forming that relationship with somebody would be so important to me," he said after living in a Norfolk homeless shelter for a year and a half now. "It would mean so much and I would really cherish it."
Fox 43 received emails and calls from so many good people looking to help Shytles that he was a bit overwhelmed. "It was like bam, bam, bam, one good thing after the other, and I was just so happy, you know," he said.
Military couple Ashley McLemore and her husband Cory were the first to reach out to Neal with help from the Union Mission where Neal's been staying.
Ashley says that as a military family, she can most relate to Shytle's lack of loved ones nearby. "It kind of struck a chord with me," she said. The couple plans to drive down to Norfolk, pick him up on Thanksgiving morning, and drive him back to their Newport News home for the day.
"They want to feed me lunch and Thanksgiving dinner so I'm getting a double blessing I guess you should say," Shytle commented.
While homelessness is enjoying a decline in recent years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is showing that over 630,000 people were homeless in 2012. On top of that, one in 30 children is homeless, according to 2013 stats.
Being a military family, the McLemores understand the unfortunate connection between homelessness and our military veterans. An estimated 58,000, or 12 percent of the total number of homeless, are veterans.
Neal's story has a happy ending, but it's the missions across the country that will also enjoy the attention brought to the problem of homelessness. "This is helping people across the country to open up their hearts to help those in need," says Linda Jones, a spokesperson for the Union Mission shelter. "I think Neal has put a real face on who the homeless are," she continued. "It's not what a lot of people think. They are human beings just like you and I."
Neal is excited to meet the McLemore family on Thursday and has sent a special message to them in anticipation. "I love both you and your husband even though I haven't met you. Thank you so much. It means a lot to me. I really appreciate you and WTKR because none of this would have happened and I'm really thankful."
A Facebook page has been created to encourage more people to send Christmas and Thanksgiving cards to Neal at the Norfolk shelter. The page's creators hope the nearly 3,500-member group will give Neal more encouragement and help alleviate his loneliness through the holidays.