Bea Gaddy Marylander of the Year

December 31, 1992

In hard times, Bea Gaddy is Baltimore's growth industry. Each year she feeds more people, shelters more, redistributes more furniture, fixes more homes, counsels more people and in indefinable ways helps more neighbors live in dignity than she did the year before. Bea Gaddy is our Marylander of the Year. She is honored as a representative of all who work to relieve the pain of poverty, but also for her absolutely unique accomplishments.

The little row house at 140 N. Collington Ave., which began as home, is the Patterson Park Emergency Food Center, nerve center of the Bea Gaddy conglomerate. On any day, a stream of people calls at the front door, bearing food, dollars, energy, time, devotion. From the alley in back a larger stream shows up under the plywood roof covering a table and bench. These are the homeless and hungry, and like the volunteers are black and white, young and old, male and female. They are fed.

In what was the house's parlor -- walls covered with testimonials, paper notes stuck everywhere to tell who is supposed to do what, the volunteers coming and going, supplicants mingling -- Miss Bea, as she is called, directs operations. Stuff is stored all over the house, even the basement where she sleeps. Upstairs is a woman in the advanced stages of AIDS, for whose children Miss Bea is trying to find a future.

Perhaps 300 will show up for food. Another 200 meals will be delivered. A few blocks away at 425 N. Chester St., in Bea Gaddy's Women and Children Shelter, are 13 women, 10 children and one man. (Miss Bea was not going to split that family.) Nearby is another house with two mentally retarded residents. She has a truck and a little pick-up.

A space at Mondawmin Mall and two storage places hold donated furniture that her people repair and give away. Volunteers have renovated four houses and are working on a fifth, with sweat equity, to teach building skills and provide homes. Other activities are drug counseling, tenant counseling, health care, a lead paint program. The computer that keeps track is in Bea Gaddy's head.

Miss Bea is the kind of person she helps. She has been homeless in New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal, jobless and hopeless in Baltimore, rooting in garbage cans to feed five children. The help she desperately wanted then, she provides today. Others preach the Golden Rule; Bea Gaddy lives it. By the late 1970s, Miss Bea was on her feet but a mere neighborhood eccentric, begging from grocery stores to feed the hungry around Patterson Park. President Reagan made her career.

On Oct. 1, 1981, "the day of the Reagan cuts" in welfare, food stamps and housing, the Patterson Park Emergency Food Center began operations. She kept inviting people for Thanksgiving, with nothing to feed them. She had faith something would turn up. It was 50 cents. She bet it on the lottery, won $290 and gave a Thanksgiving dinner for 39. Each Thanksgiving since, more people have come. This year, 23,467 turned up at a tent at Dunbar High School. Big firms provided the goods, jail inmates roasted the turkeys, churches and

synagogues provided servers. The nation applauded.

This short, slight woman for all seasons, who will turn 60 on Feb. 20, is a wonderful mixture: Bag lady, beggar, executive of commanding presence, lucid spokesman, idealist, mistress of detail, motivator supreme. Her genius is making people want to help. Businesses provide aid, including lawyers and accountants, even a Washington public relations man, to make things work.

Not everything does. Last year, Miss Bea wanted to become a City Council member, for the poor. She had a chance, was redistricted from First to Second District, and barely lost. That over, she is charging ahead in the Bea Gaddy business.

A prospective donor is said to be in the wings to underwrite a large center, which Miss Bea covets to consolidate operations if the right building can be found. The idea is to create a Bea Gaddy Foundation as umbrella for all activities.

These are some of the hopes for the new year. The Bea Gaddy industry is still thriving. It will until someone can reduce the number of homeless and hungry. Meanwhile, if anyone wants to help, the phone number is 563-2749.

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