Callers pledge to rekindle vendor's hot dog program

Careening car halted effort for hungry kids

March 14, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

From welfare recipients to company presidents, dozens of people offered yesterday to help an obscure Harlem Park hot dog vendor restart a program that feeds hungry children.

The outpouring was so widespread -- including pledges of support from Canada -- William Henderson would be able to place hot dog carts on every corner of the 29-block West Baltimore community.

By the end of yesterday, more than 100 people had contacted The Sun, city charities and Harlem Park community organizations offering to donate carts or money to Henderson.

Henderson, 42, was featured in a Sun article yesterday highlighting his hopes for replacing his cart, which was destroyed Feb. 16 when a car ambushed in a shooting careened onto the sidewalk.

Henderson said he supplied free hot dogs and soda to hundreds of Harlem Park children at the end of each month, when their parents' welfare benefits and food stamps are depleted.

With his cart destroyed, Henderson said February was the first time in five years he was not able to provide the free food. But with yesterday's pledges, he hopes to expand the program so it can reach more children.

"We will not just have to do it the last two or three days of the month," Henderson said. "We can do it much earlier in the month, too, and that is a blessing."

The pledges of support came from people of all backgrounds, who said they were stunned and heartbroken to learn conditions in one of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods were so dire children sometimes had to rely on free hot dogs.

"I had one person call me and tell me his wife read the story and had tears in her eyes," Henderson said. "It shows me that people today still have a heart and hope."

Workers at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene passed a hat and raised $25.

"There are so many situations in the world that you can't make a difference this is something I can actually do and make a difference," said Georgia Corso, who organized the collection."

Nannette Holmes, of Severna Park, offered to make sandwiches and cookies for Henderson to distribute with his hot dogs.

Dozens of others, who wished to remain anonymous, pledged donations of $100, $200, $500 -- even $5,000. Others called with advice, saying Henderson should feed the impoverished children healthful salads instead of hot dogs.

Many of the pledges were from people with ties to the Harlem Park community who want to give back to the neighborhood -- where half the residents live below the poverty line -- they fled years ago for suburban areas or other cities.

Lewis M. Ireland, of Hunt Valley, said he was stunned to learn how much Harlem Park has changed since he grew up there 75 years ago when the community was home to many working-class blacks.

"For kids to walk 12 blocks to get a hot dog, something is wrong with the system," Ireland said.

Ireland, who said he is a retired businessman, plans to contact boyhood friends living across the country and raise money to fund Harlem Park development and poverty projects. "If we go to the politicians, they will say they cannot afford it," Ireland said.

But Henderson, who also cleans neighborhood playgrounds and operates summer programs, said the people concerned about the children's plight should also become involved in the political process and study recent welfare reforms.

Donations to assist Henderson can be made to the Harlem Park Community Advocacy c/o Bank of America, 1808 Pennsylvania Ave., Baltimore 21217, or call 410-225- 3906.

Sun staff writer Nora Koch contributed to this article.

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