In May of 1994, Albert Wallace took over the Good News Foundation, a non-profit, non-denominational organization devoted to helping low-income and homeless people. They provide assistance and support year round in the form of food, clothing, rent and utility supplements as well as school supplies and eyeglasses for children. For Wallace, the one-man operation is a mission. A homeless vet for 11 years himself, Wallace says he lived and learned what being hungry and sleeping in cars and dumpsters was all about. Now, every Sunday, you can find Wallace and various volunteers at the Red Cross Shelter, serving chicken dinners to approximately 200 homeless people. He's known to them, simply as the "chicken man."
How did the Sunday chicken-dinner tradition come about? Being in the shelter, I observed quite a bit, and I decided that once I got out, I was going to do something for the place and the people. I didn't know at the time I was talking about feeding the people. I was thinking more about buying a new television. Then, the day before Mother's Day, I got to thinking it would be nice to do something for the mothers at the [Red Cross] shelter. Because, at any given time, they have a lot of women in there. So I went and bought roses, and that Sunday morning, Mother's Day, took them down there. All the women started crying, and that really socked it to me. So I thought it would be nice to provide meals for the mothers, too. And then it came to me -- why don't I just do it for everybody. Then, it was history. Over the past five years, I've served about 200,000 pieces of chicken.
Do your efforts double during the holidays? Thanksgiving, I become the "turkey man." Last year we provided turkeys and food baskets to 164 low-income families. Then, at Christmas, I turn around and play Santa Claus to the same families. Many families have to make decisions: rent, utilities or Thanksgiving. So, for a lot of families, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just another day. If I can provide turkeys and the goodies to a family and they can cook their own meal, that's my thanks right there.
Where do the families come from? I contact different schools throughout the community and ask the counselors if they would submit to me names of the low-income families. When they do that, I know I'm helping the needy, the truly needy, not the greedy.
What are some of the biggest issues low-income and homeless people face here in the Springs? Poor job market. Have you ever tried to support a family on $5, $6, $7 an hour? And it's very difficult to get a job when you don't have an address. Also, Colorado Springs has one of the worst public-transportation systems I've ever seen. After 7 or 8 p.m., if a person wants to work at night or have two jobs -- this city is so spread out, and buses just don't run late enough. That makes it hard for people to get around. In general, I think the city needs to take more responsibility, not pass the buck.
You were once homeless. How did you change your circumstances? Well, a very long story. But, I was in the VA hospital in Denver and Grand Junction. They helped me find myself. For some unknown reason, one of the doctors in Denver picked up on something. They sent me to Grand Junction for 28 days, where, basically, I was reprogrammed -- that I was a human being, I was somebody.
Do you have any holiday wishes? I spend 60 percent of my time raising money. And that's too much. So, donations. New toys for kids. Clothing. A good running truck or a small van. Last year, I put over 14,000 miles on my car. I know a lot of people don't want to get directly involved, but donations are always appreciated. And anyone is always welcome to come by the office and see what we're all about.