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To look at Shawn Morris, you would not suspect that underneath his casual demeanor and unassuming, quiet personality, a heart of compassion beats for the homeless of Shelby County.
“They suffer in silence,” he said. “People don't even notice them, they look right through them.”
Morris, 27, who grew up in Shelbyville and works as a clerk at Thornton's on Midland Trail, said he's very aware that his goal to help the homeless is a daunting task, and he doesn't have the means to give much himself.
But he is organizing a fundraiser yard sale for May 31 at Clear Creek Park with all proceeds to benefits groups like the Open Door of Hope, Operation Care's Women’s Shelter/Center and for scholarships for youth at Shelby County Parks and Recreation.
He also plans to use some of the money to purchase items that he’s noticed some people simply can’t afford, such as residents of Colonial Manor, a boarding house for people with disabilities.
The whole idea – even the very concept – of helping the homeless was foreign to him until very recently, he said.
Then he had what he calls "a moment of clarity" on Easter Sunday.
"I was driving around, and I saw somebody who looked hungry," he said. "And I had some food in the car, so I stopped and said, 'Do you need some food? I have some salad, some fruit, sandwiches.'
"They said, 'Why are you doing this?' and I said, 'Because I just want to.'"
Then he began to get even more into the spirit of giving, he said.
"I have already given away most of my personal clothing items," he said, opening the back door of his used – but functioning – car to reveal a half dozen shirts hanging neatly in the back seat, ready to be given to anyone he meets who might need clothing.
"I went out two weeks ago and bought a ham and made sandwiches and drove around finding people who needed food. They recognize me now," he said, with a shy grin.
Morris, a father of three who is currently separated from his children's mother – the children are living with her in Indiana right now – said he was supposed to have graduated from Shelby County High School in 2005, but dropped out. He has since gotten his GED, and even attended college for a time, he said. He paused when asked if his project has the support of his family.
"Well, to tell the truth, most of my family thinks I'm crazy," he said. "But I feel so strongly about this. They [homeless] are people, too. They are not just crazy people who sleep on benches. And really, how many of us, are just one bad break away from being just like them?"
Morris does have some community support, however.
Jon Walker, the new director of the Open Door of Hope, said when Morris came to him recently with his fundraiser idea, asking for some guidance, he told him he should take more time to organize the event.
“I think it’s a really great idea; he’s got a really big heart and a good vision,” he said. “I totally support him and what he’s doing. I just told him he needs to slow things down a bit and do some more planning, but he’s got a lot of passion for this.”
Shelby County Parks and Recreation Director Shawn Pickens said he has agreed to allow Morris to use the amphitheater at Clear Creek free of charge, and Morris has agreed that 10 percent of the proceeds from the event will go to scholarships for youth athletics.
“He’s taken a huge task upon himself, but I am behind what he wants to accomplish,” Pickens said.
Morris said that in addition to raising money for the homeless, he also wants to raise awareness of their plight.
"People are too materialistic; they have forgotten how to care," he said. "And I tell you, being with them [homeless] and helping them personally, has really affected me. It's one thing to raise money to benefit a charity for a cause in Africa or someplace, but it's another thing to take something and hand it to somebody personally," he said. "It can really blow you away."
Morris said that at this point, he has gotten some bands to commit to providing entertainment for the event and has gotten some local business owners to donate some raffle items. "Now I'm doing what I can to see if I can get permission to have food and drink,” he said.
Morris said his next move might be to reach out to some local churches that would be able to provide some volunteers to help out with the event.
He asks that anyone interesting in donating items for the sale or in volunteering to help contact him at 502-232-1270.
He said he hopes that his own situation will encourage people to get involved who never thought of doing so before.
"You can make a difference," he said. "You don't have to be somebody important; you don't realize how much you can accomplish just by doing whatever you can, however little or much."
Fundraiser for homeless
WHAT:Yard sale fundraiser
WHERE:Clear Creek Park Amphitheater
TO HELP:Contact Shawn Morris at 502-232-1270