"Happy holidays, Good News," said the man, answering the phone.
"I'm looking for Chickenman."
"Cockle-doo-doo-doo," comes the instant response from the voice on the other end.
Originally from Alabama, Albert "Chickenman" Wallace is a tall, silver-haired 62-year-old Vietnam veteran and former homeless man who puts in long hours every day to "help the needy, not the greedy" in El Paso and Teller counties. He loves his work and also deeply understands the need for it.
He goes by Chickenman because of his reputation for distributing birds. He typically hands out 150 frozen chickens a month, along with holiday turkeys and groceries and clothing and toys to needy families year-round. "Faaaantastic," Chickenman drawls in his deep Foghorn Leghorn voice every time he can offer a needy family a couple weeks worth of groceries or a poor kid a pair of reading glasses.
It's not like he wears a chicken suit. His favorite meal isn't even poultry. He prefers salmon filet and biscuits and syrup. But when it comes to helping people down on their luck, Chickenman struts his stuff.
When Chickenman helps someone, he pumps his arm in the air like a piston and makes a piston sound. In a previous life, he spent 14 years on Colorado Springs' streets, sleeping in abandoned cars and dumpsters, an insecure veteran who dropped out of society. His only constant companion was a daily half-gallon of wine and six-pack of Colt-45.
Sober for more than a decade, he now bench-presses good deeds. But the thing he likes to do most, his life work, is making people smile. "Christmas coming, the turkey getting fat, please put a penny in the old man's hat," Chickenman said.
Begging like a dog
He began the giving to the needy 10 years ago, delivering fried chicken to a downtown homeless shelter during weekends and holidays. At the time, he only had been off the streets for three years himself.
"When I first started, I got on the phone and begged like a dog," Chickenman said. He didn't have any money to start up a charity operation, but somehow he scrounged up enough donations to get going.
A decade later, he is president of the Good News Foundation, a small independent nondenominational nonprofit he runs out of an office at 221 N. Academy Blvd., which has been converted into a food and clothing bank. He receives donations mostly from individuals, but also from groups like the Gay and Lesbian Fund and the El Pomar Foundation.
Over the years, Good News has donated 90,000 Thanksgiving meals, 30,000 Christmas meals, and 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses and has sent 500 children to summer camp and provided clothing and back-to-school goods -- all for needy families and individuals.
Last week a sign on the door at Good News read "out of food." The Chickenman was saving up for Thanksgiving, hoping to provide 300 turkeys this year. In the meantime, he had to turn some people away. This kills Chickenman, whose been known to whip out his wallet to buy someone food. One Christmas Eve, he fished out his last $40 so a father could buy his kids presents.
The cold reality facing Chickenman this year is that Good News is nearly broke and he doesn't know if the organization will survive. Of 8,000 pieces of mail seeking donations, this year he's received 20 donations.
Chickenman's gone into personal debt to keep the ship afloat. The foundation has only $6,000 in the bank, and owes him $3,000. This fall Chickenman paid $7,000 out of his own pocket to settle various bills.
Good News' financial woes are not unique. Fewer donations and increased neediness spurred by a sluggish economy and massive computer glitches in the state's welfare system caused food shortages this holiday season. More needy people are looking for assistance anywhere they can get it, often winding up at Chickenman's doorstep, he says.
'The hardest thing in the world'
For a small, exclusively local organization that cannot rely on a national network the pinch is severe. "All of the money donated here stays right here in Colorado Springs," Chickenman said. And it's locally that Chickenman has made a difference, especially for many poor families living on the east side of town.
Watching some of those families walk away empty is not something Chickenman takes lightly. "That is the hardest thing in the world, when you tell someone no and you don't know what to do," Chickenman said." He's also worried about his own future. As a diabetic senior citizen, Chickenman knows his time working for Good News is running out, and he'd like to find a replacement. "Our most serious need is money," he said.
But, for the most part, Chickenman knows how to take his worries in stride. "Working for the Lord doesn't pay much," he said. "But the retirement plan is out of this world."
Good News Foundation is located at 221 N. Academy Blvd. Suite #290 Colorado Springs CO 80909. Telephone: 638-8985. Tax-deductible donations are welcome.
Where to go for food, clothes, help
Where to go for food, clothes, help
Call Colorado 211 (Dial 2-1-1. It's one-stop telephone shopping for thousands of social services throughout the state, including more than 400 in El Paso County).
Urban Peak Colorado Springs provides food, clothing and housing assistance for runaway and homeless youths, counseling, education and job assistance. The office is located at 423 E. Cucharras St., in Colorado Springs. Call 630-3223.
The Samaritan's Kitchen serves "A Meal and a Message." Evening meals are served to the homeless and hungry at 5 W. Las Vegas St., in Colorado Springs. Clients should arrive between 4:30 p.m and 5 p.m.
Marian House Soup Kitchen, 14 W. Bijou St., in Colorado Springs, serves hot meals daily: Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Sunday 8:45 to 10 a.m.
Ecumenical Social Ministries, 201 N. Weber St., helps residents in central Colorado Springs get food, clothing and prescription assistance, pay rent and utilities, and find jobs and counseling. Call 636-1916 or 228-6791 for rent assistance. Identification and other documents, such as utilities bills, are required.
Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado doesn't directly aid individuals in need of food, but provides food to other shelters and agencies. However, people seeking food can call a help line from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday, to get in touch with the appropriate organization: 528-6767.