Westside Ministry

March 10, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

A radio in the basement window sends gospel music into th 1900 block of West North Avenue, a hard stretch of Baltimore known for drugs and violence and not so much for the quiet good work of residents like Keith E. Bailey.

The gospel choir sings from a radio in Mr. Bailey's basement florist shop. On a table in front of him is a table crowded with ten homemade cakes. Behind him are two dozen pork-on-whole-wheat sandwiches alongside a vase of fresh roses arefrigerated case.

Every Saturday, from noon until dusk, Mr. Bailey gives away food to anyone who asks for it as he makes up bouquets of carnations, lilies and mums.

It's his own little ministry, a little bit of God in the pink basement of a westside row house flower shop.

"I come from a family of six children, and my mother was the kind of person that didn't have nothing when we were growing up in the Lafayette projects," said Mr. Bailey, a 36-year-old Polytechnic Institute graduate. "People gave to us, and I never forgot that."

To give back what was given to him, he feeds people on Saturday afternoons: The hungry, the drunks, the homeless, the addicts, the poor, friends, strangers -- even people who have food at home but take advantage of a good thing.

"Some people don't need it, but I don't turn them away," he said. "If they want to take something they don't need, that's between them and God."

It's all worth it, he said, if he can get someone's ear for a moment before they run out the door with a slice of cake, a chopped pork sandwich or a cup of bean soup.

"Most of the time these people need somebody to talk to," he said. "They can come in here and say, 'Keith, I've been put out on the street.' Sometimes, if you just tell them to go back and apologize to whoever put them out it gives them the lift they need."

Carrollton Lee, a mother of three who says she doesn't work because of high blood pressure, is a regular beneficiary of Mr. Bailey's kindness. She was one of about 20 people who stopped by yesterday for free food.

"I'm just a little ghetto girl . . . I was a bag lady once, but then I went on social service," said Ms. Lee, who said her only income is a monthly $205 government welfare check. "Mr. Keith put a sign in the window one day that said 'Soup Kitchen,' and the word got out and everybody started coming around. He helps anyone with anything. He even gave me a free yellow ribbon for the troops."

Mr. Bailey, who lives atop his florist shop and counts on a small group of friends to help supply the food, has allowed homeless people to sleep on a sofa in the basement and sometimes gives away clothes.

His goal, he said, is to open a counseling center in the neighborhood to help people get off the hook of drugs, street corners, greed and alcohol.

Beverly Edgerton, who lives next door to Mr. Bailey's store, supports her friend.

"He helps everyone who walks up and down the street here, the junkies, the alcoholics, whoever. They all know Keith and ask him for something," she said.

"Keith really tries to make things better, but most of the lives don't change," Ms. Edgerton said. "They just run in to grab something to eat and go on about their business."

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