Sal’s Story: The History of
The Time Is Now To Help The Children & Elderly
Why did I embark on this journey to help the poor? Growing up, through moments of significant pain and shame brought on by poverty—times when we had little or no food, times when the electric was turned off, and out of that, the biggest pain was watching the woman I loved so dearly—my mother—crying, holding onto her, trying to console her. There I was, just a little boy with this small physical stature, but feeling that I was giving these big hugs to this pillar of a woman whom I loved so much and still do. My mother was and is a very strong woman. She is 86 years old and has a heart of gold. I used to wonder in my little, innocent world, why no one was helping my Mom. Occasionally, a relative would bring over a box of food. Most of the time the help came from my mother herself—getting it together, going out and getting a job and fending for her family. It wasn’t always like this, but these are the moments that sparked my drive and giving for others. I used to think, "Why is no one helping this dear woman that I love?" When I grew up, I found out that most people didn’t know, or primarily didn’t care. The reason they didn’t know, is because of my Mom’s pride in not wanting to disclose the problems that we had at home that caused us to be poverty stricken. If some did know, I found out that people didn’t care enough to help. That’s when I made a vow to God to work very, very hard, never forget my roots, and to help out as many people as I possibly can.
I remember when I first became financially successful; I started giving to several different organizations. One day, my friend and tax attorney said to me, "If you are going to give; give wisely. Get their financial statements." I said, "What for? I’ve read about them. They all have good causes." He told me, "Sal, get their financial statements; it will show how much money actually reaches the poor." When I got the financial statements, I was shocked and saddened. Most of them had 80-90% overhead, leaving little left over to help their advertised cause. Some had second offices in Canada, Hawaii and office fronts just to bring the money in. Going down to the city of Chicago, there was one of those charities that really described how they helped the elderly. I got there in January, and their front door was locked. The very small office was closed. There was a group of elderly people out on the sidewalk freezing. I said, "What is going on? Why isn’t anyone here to help?" They said, "There is never anybody here." I said, "Well, what are you doing here?" And they said, "Hoping someone might show up." I proceeded to get all the elderly hotel rooms for that night and even paid for them to be able to stay for a week or two. I came back several times over the next few weeks, to no avail. It was just locked. I finally contacted somebody on the phone and they started telling me all these grandiose things that they do for the elderly. I proceeded to tell them I was there several times and the doors were always locked. The elderly people were out front and there was no help being offered. To make a long story short, it was one of those fraudulent organizations that collect the money and kept nearly all of it. I was devastated. I thought, "How could anyone use poverty stricken people, especially helpless elderly, to deceive innocent people into contributing to their organization? They were so cruel to steal money from good hearted people that wanted to help. After reviewing my other financial statements, it turned out to be that nearly all the organizations were utilizing most of the monies themselves.
At that time, I decided that I was going to start my own organization and make sure that every penny that came in went to help the poverty-stricken children and elderly. I wanted to focus on the children and elderly, because they are the most helpless. They really cannot fend for themselves--especially the children that are born into poverty. In many cases, the elderly are brought into poverty due to the fact that they cannot afford the so-called luxuries of rent, utilities and food. They usually end up in the street or in a run-down apartment with no heat or food.
So, this is my goal. I put together a portfolio of pictures that I went out and took myself, with the help of a friend that was a photographer and my cousin who also was a photographer. The three of us went to many different areas all through Chicago, the suburbs, anywhere that we could find the poverty-stricken. Many of us, when we have time, spend it entertaining ourselves. We look forward to a movie or dinner, going somewhere nice. Very rarely, if ever, do we take the time to go and find the suffering, where there is pain within the lives of people. At first I thought it would be really hard. I was sure hoping that it would be hard; I didn’t want the numbers to be that great. I wanted people to be healthy and happy. That is the reason why I close all of my letters with Health and Happiness, God Bless. I was wrong, it was pretty easy to find the suffering people--lots of people. After I took a lot of pictures and put the location on the back, I started the process of completing my forms for a 501C3 charity organization status. I was pretty surprised that within a few weeks I received a phone call from the IRS office that I sent my application to.
They introduced themselves, and they were on a speakerphone with a roomful of people. They said they received my application. I said "Is there anything wrong?" They replied, "No, to the contrary. Some of these locations are close to our office and we decided to take a drive to them.” They could not believe what they found. They said, "We want to let you know that we went to several of the these areas and found many people suffering from the pain of poverty. We will do everything we can to get your application processed as soon as possible. At the same time as you do get established, we would like to donate food, clothing, and whatever we can to help your quest." When I hung up the phone I remember having tears in my eyes. It was a combination of emotions—I was so happy that people recognized the "truth" in what I saw and at the same time here our fellow people were suffering and nobody was taking the time out to help them. Thanks to God leading my efforts, good people, now that they know, are willing to help.
Moving on, I started doing my work with passion for God. No matter what I was doing during the day, in the back of my mind was to find people that needed help. As I kept trying to find Government agencies that would help, I was shocked to find that there are so many people put in positions to control the tax dollars targeted for helping poverty situations, but they made it so difficult for these people to receive help. They were so defensive against the fraudulent organizations that they became callous and they weren’t getting their job done. That is still true today. I am not here to throw stones at those people or agencies, but the bureaucracy is not doing its job. I would say that the job is being accomplished by some, but not by as many as could or should be done.
I remember one day driving a few hours south of O’Hare airport into the farming areas to pick up a dog for my family. As we were coming through these farming areas, my little boy, who was only 7 years old at the time, was sharing my passion. In fact, prior to this, when he was 3, he was holding his little brother in his lap and hugging him with both arms. He looked up at my wife and I and said, "Dad, I love my little brother so much. I feel like I have a thousand hearts." My wife and I looked at each other and looked back at him, and thanked God for the gift of our little boy with such a loving, kind heart. This little boy brought to my attention the most poverty-stricken area in Illinois and depicted as the 3rd most impoverished area in the U.S. per the Chicago Tribune and Catholic Explorer Magazine. As we were driving through this farming area, here and there we would see little run-down out buildings on these big farms. They were just small shacks, no larger than a one-car garage. We saw a lot of them. My little boy said, "Dad, there’s people in those buildings." And, of course, being the so-called intelligent adult, I said, "No, there can’t be. The roofs are falling in, the windows are broken." As I said that, I was slowing down looking in the broken windows, and I saw little eyes peering out at me. The little boy with the thousand hearts was right. As I drove through this area, Pembroke Township, I was shocked at what I found. It was like God had brought me here and my seven-year-old little boy brought it to my attention. I was awe-struck. I would have never gone into this area at all, and here I was, a few hours from home, in the middle of nowhere, and my biggest quest to help people would begin.
When I returned to this area the next day, I sought out a Pastor George Washington, Sr.—a very big man, BIG. His hands were twice the size of mine. This man was in his 70’s, but his frame was sturdy. I approached him and introduced myself to him. I said, "There’s a lot of poverty around here." He shook his head and said, "Yes." I said, "How many of these people need help?" He looked at me, and said, "Every one of them." I said, "How many people live in this area?" He said, "About 2,000." I said, "2,000!" He said, "Yes, they are scattered all over this area." I said, "How did they get so poor, what happened?" He informed me that they used to be laborers on all these farms many decades ago. As the farmers got the big combines and big equipment, they all were laid off. Being uneducated and not having anywhere to go, they stayed. I was shocked again that from their meager checks of $160-$360 per month, there were actually slumlords in this area that would take a majority of their money to let them live in these shacks. I’m telling you, I stepped back into time. These people were living as if they were in the Great Depression, or maybe before. As I drove and saw the people, a lot of them had no shoes, especially the children. No proper clothes, just rags, no food. Most of the people were tough, fending for themselves, living on mostly potatoes that they grew and had stored in bushels.
I ventured into some of these shacks. My guide, Pastor George Washington, Sr. was like a shepherd. What a great man with a big heart. He has passed away since then. I would go into these shacks, and there were children that would sleep cuddled up on rags in the corner. Some had never slept on a bed in their life, and they were 9-12 years old. I asked “Why is no one helping these people?" I found out that Pastor Washington had a food pantry with no food. I called Springfield and asked, "Where is their food?" They said, "We don’t buy food, we just give licenses for pantries." In 1989, I started going to a place called Bethlehem Center, now called Northern Illinois Food Bank. I used to buy food at 11 cents per lb, now it is 16 cents per lb. This fee covers the handling. It is a great organization. They make deals with food stores to take all the damaged packaged goods that people won’t buy. They won’t take a broken box, they’ll reach into the back and take a nice package. It is still good food. Instead of all that food being thrown out that nobody wants to buy, Northern Illinois Food Bank takes the food graciously donated by these food chains and puts it in a warehouse to distribute to charitable organizations like The Time is Now to Help the Children and Elderly. We purchased 20,000 lbs of food a month for 14 years. Did you know there are 30 million people that go to bed hungry every night?
I began to stock the food pantry. I started bringing hundreds of mattresses. That’s a story in itself. We began with bringing 1 truck, then 2 trucks, then 4 trucks. We would go door-to-door, shack-to-shack. Even toys, every child needs some fun in their life. I would go to Toys R Us to try to negotiate a deal to get a discount. Often, it was very hard to negotiate. They would say, "We can’t, we can’t…." Sometimes they would give us a 5% discount; sometimes they would give nothing. I would go into Toys R Us with my group of people and we would fill a truck with hundreds of toys. Carts would be lined up from the front of the store to the back. We would purchase cases of educational toys, fun toys, books etc… When we would go to distribute these toys we would also provide brand new pillows, blankets, and coats. I would go to Burlington Coat Factory, where they would already have good prices, and they would still offer us a discount. We would buy 1,600 coats, down coats, etc. Never inferior quality, only good quality items that I would have worn myself and purchased for my own children. We would buy hundreds and hundreds of pairs of shoes. In our truck caravan, sometimes we would have shoes, blankets, and pillows. Sometimes we would have mattresses, toys and toiletries. Yes, even toiletries. How sad, to not even have toilet paper. If our fellow Americans are suffering and do not have the necessities of life, we provide them.
We would start out early in the morning. Sometimes there would be clusters of shacks and mobile homes. It is such a rural area, that we would have to drive for miles to find them. Because they were so spread out and there were so many in need, we would often go until 1or 2 am in the morning. Once when I was with Rev. Washington’s daughter, Laura Ann Harrison, who took over the food pantry when her father passed away, she asked, "Sal, why did you skip those houses over there." I replied, "There were no lights on, so I figured they were abandoned." She then informed me that these were the people who could not afford electricity. Shocked, I then asked her, "What, there are people in there?" She said, "Yes." I thought, if my little boy with the thousand hearts was with me, he would have told me. We backtracked and sure enough, there were people in those shacks. The children and parents were crying because they thought we had missed them. We emptied out the trucks that night about an hour later. As I drove back on the long journey home, I started to cry, wondering how many people I missed. The very next week we filled up again and returned. I was hurting every day thinking that those people saw us drive past them without stopping to help them. How cruel!
I went back and I started something new. I started having electric turned on everywhere and anywhere I could for the most needy, the children and elderly that could not fend for themselves. Most of the children are abandoned to their grandparents. Then I found out that this entire area did not have natural gas—bottled propane gas was what they used. Sometimes they had no heat. I contacted the propane gas companies and started having the heat turned on. Eventually the drivers on route would call my office to notify me of a family with elderly and children who were struggling without electricity, heat and freezing. I would pay for their tank to be filled or electric to be turned on. There was one lady who was 83 years old and taking care of her grandchildren that had been abandoned to her. They didn’t have any gas or electricity so I had it turned on for them. I would think back to being with my Mom, with the red notice saying the electric would be shut off or flipping the switch and wondering why the bulbs didn’t work. I guess I was like my son, a young boy with a lot of heart but no understanding of why cruelty existed in the world, the cruelty of no help, just poverty.
There is a wonderful lady who helped me on this journey who’s name is Karole Kettering. She is director and founder of the Humanitarian Service Project which began in 1979. HSP then grew into the Senior Citizen Project. She wanted to prove to people that in a suburban county, that was supposed to be so affluent and where most people lived above the standard of living, there are poverty-stricken among us that nobody knows about and many don’t care. She had located approximately 2,400 seniors that lived on less than $4,000 per year and I found myself helping, caring, loving senior citizens that did not have food, etc. We would provide items through this organization—food, turn on utilities, rent, etc… I have a photo of a lady in her apartment with all her belongings packed in paper bags and she’s in a wheelchair. She was in her late 70’s, ready to become homeless. She was in tears, not knowing how she was going to carry all her belongings in these bags and with nowhere to go. It was so cold in her apartment, in the middle of winter, she was physically turning blue. The landlord informed us that they could no longer allow her to live there since she could not afford her utilities. Oh yes, her rent was paid, she was half starved, but the landlord could not help. We paid the rent, got the utilities turned on, and Karole Kettering kept in touch with her, to assist. The Humanitarian Service Project is a great organization, one of those that made the grade and that I still continue to give to. I sponsor elderly by the year. This provides food and necessities monthly. They also provide a "Senior’s Wish List" to me. The wish list includes all the items the elderly need—a chair, table, wheelchair, mattress, blankets, clothes, etc… We provide them. This organization continues to help children and elderly. They also have what is called the Children’s Birthday Project for children that don’t receive any gifts for their birthday. We help in this area also. They need to be children and play with toys. They need to have a little gift on their birthday. We provide monies for this. We provide several hundred coats for Karole to distribute. To this day, I still help this wonderful organization. For more information you can go to www.humanitarianservice.org.
As I was looking for organizations that were actually helping, I came across a group of people that call themselves the Jesus People. They were and still are helping more people than any other organization I have found. That includes the government agencies and other large organizations. They are feeding and sheltering hundreds of children and mothers. Mothers that were abandoned with their children, the elderly, anyone who needs help. I was shocked to hear that these people pulled their resources together and live on $4,400/yr in overhead for themselves individually, and then provide so much for so many. All of the members of the Jesus People staff live and eat with the poor. They all share meals together in their soup kitchen. I provided them with hundreds of pairs of shoes, thousands of blankets, thousands of diapers…. whatever I can do to help.
Then I went to the Salvation Army to see what they were doing. I made an appointment with the Captain. I was amazed at how organized it was and what an excellent organization it is. This was the "Salvation Army." As I made my way through the lines of people, because it was time to give to the needy, I was shocked to see all the babies without diapers. They were actually defecating on themselves and going to the bathroom on their little, raggedy clothes. When I went inside, I said, "Do you have diapers? There are a lot of babies out there that need them?" They said, "No, we don’t, they are too expensive." I said, "What? I will get you diapers." I started to do research on diapers, and they are very expensive, but they are needed. Diaper companies say that these are "leader items" to get people into the stores. The prices that you see that you think are expensive, that is their cost, or so I am told. For such a staple item, the expense was tremendous. On new blankets from the manufacturers, you can get good deals. And a blanket is 20 times bigger than a diaper, but the diapers were more expensive. Anyway, I went ahead and started buying tens of thousands of diapers and had them distributed to different areas.
My cousin, Fred Napoli, asked me to come to the North Center for the Handicapped. He said there are children there, and nearly all of them come from poverty stricken homes. He made arrangements for me to meet Mrs. Jacobson, who is the founder of North Center for the Handicapped. I was not prepared for what I was about to find. All of these children were multiple handicapped, many with feeding tubes. Some just laid flat because they could not hold themselves up and they could not afford special wheelchairs that could support them properly. They had lived for many years just lying flat, horizontally on a pad or a piece of plywood on the floor. I was completely unprepared. Their clothes were torn and worn. I looked at Fred, and asked, "Where are their clothes and wheelchairs?" He said, "Well, they come from families that don’t have very much." I just felt devastated. I sent them on a field trip to go to a store so that everyone could get clothes. They asked me to come back, and we did with food. I looked and the children were smiling. I was surprised. Mrs. Jacobson said to me, "Sal, their minds are intact, they are just trapped in a body that doesn’t work." I looked at this little girl laying flat on the floor and she had a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt on that she had just purchased. Even though she could not talk or communicate, she knew who the Chicago Bulls were. She was about 11 years old and just smiling from ear to ear. I said, "Do you know who the Chicago Bulls are?" And she just smiled even wider. I said, "Boy, you look really good in that bright, red sweatshirt." and that smile got even bigger. I looked at Mrs. Jacobson with tears in my eyes, and she hugged me and thanked me. I said, "What else can I do?" She was a very proud woman so she said, "Nothing Sal, we’re fine." I later found out that they needed a roof, heating, etc…and I provided it for them. I have always been there for them over the past years. For an organization that represented the group with the greatest needs, they would rarely speak up for themselves. Their pride would not let them. I would have to pry out of them what was needed or I would find out from my cousin. Since then, Mrs. Jacobson has passed away. Her son, who was multiply handicapped and her reason for starting the foundation, has also passed away. Her daughter, Deena Jacobson DeNosaquo, has been running it for the last few years—once again, very humbly and with pride. We purchased special computers and programs for them, and the children love them. I continued to help.
I feel we have a very heartwarming, true story….a continuing story that I hope you do find of interest and find it in your heart to help. For many years, I have always turned down publicity of any kind. I have been approached many, many times. It is nice to see the interest that is out there, but I never wanted any of this exposure until I found out that this kind of exposure brings about positive change. Thank you for your interests and your concern. There are a lot of interesting things here. A lot of good people involved. I will continue my vow to God to help our fellow creations of God who are suffering from poverty. Thank you for your time, sharing and caring.
Until the present time, I have given 90% of the monies. I cannot provide all that is needed for so many suffering children, elderly, and handicapped we have located. Please help. Thank you very much for your time and consideration of help. Please help ease the pain and suffering of the children and the elderly. They need our help. My promise to God drives me. God said, "Those who help the least of My people, helps Me." God Bless.
Every penny you give will be utilized to purchase goods for the poverty stricken to ease their pain and suffering. I have never taken one penny out of The Time Is Now. Quoting Article Two of The Time Is Now Articles of Incorporation, “No part of any of the monies of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of or be distributable to its officers/directors; there are no director’s fees, no director’s salaries, no auto expenses, and no reimbursements…”
Health and Happiness to You and Yours,
Sal Dimiceli, Sr.