Joe Maddon reflects on helping homeless with 10th Thanksmas

November 27, 2018

By Marc Topkin | Tampa Bay Times

ST. PETERSBURG — The first time Joe Maddon walked into the St. Vincent de Paul center, he left hurt.

It was 2006, after his initial season managing the then-Devil Rays. Maddon was launching a program he called “Thanksmas” to serve a meal to the homeless and raise awareness to the issue specifically between the holidays.

In the disorganization of trying to cook and serve and host, he spilled a pot of boiling water on his feet and had to be treated for burns by the team medical staff at Tropicana Field.

Maddon walked back in Monday for the 10th Tampa Bay installment of the program, which was reinstated in 2017 after a three-year hiatus following his departure from the Rays in October 2014 and hiring by the Cubs.

Eager to see the staff and pleased to be helping the 100-plus people lined up for the PDQ-provided meal, Maddon felt pained as the magnitude of the homeless issue struck him again.

“Walking in here this time really made as strong of an impression as any (event) has had over the last couple of years,” Maddon said. “(Thanksmas) has grown annually, but I don’t think my mind has grown annually with it. In other words, I’ve failed to really realize or understand sometimes how important it is.

“Even to the point that you are writing about it or that the TV folks are asking about it. You know what that does? It leads to donations. It leads to people becoming more aware. And it’s not just seasonal awareness, not just holiday awareness that’s necessary. It’s daily awareness that is necessary to really make these places function and possibly get to the level of success that they’re looking for – getting people out of the building, employed, jobs, their own homes, etc.

“That’s the eventual goal. But until we get more of an understanding and participation with the general public it’s going to continue to be something like this, maybe a little bit better.”

 

Respect 90 Thanksmas

Former Rays and current Cubs manager Joe Maddon (left) greets homeless clients at St. Vincent de Paul Center of Hope, St. Petersburg with his wife Jaye (right) during his annual Thanksmas dinner for the homeless on Tuesday. The effort provided the homeless with a free lunch and personal items through Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation and with the help of PDQ Restaurants. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

 

The St. Vincent de Paul center operates totally on donations to serve three meals a day to homeless clients. (Families and veterans are housed and fed via a different program.)

Center director John Mafodda said Maddon’s involvement and sincerity are a huge help.

“You can tell when they’re genuine, and he’s always been genuine,” Mafodda said. “I’ve seen him in the community in several different places, it’s the real deal. There are people that are just looking for the photo op. It comes from the heart with Joe Maddon.”

Maddon, accompanied by wife Jaye, showed that in working the room Monday, talking to most, if not all, of the men and women who came through the line, shaking hands, signing autographs if they asked, making sure they also grabbed a pair of socks that his Respect 90 Foundation provided. He will do the same Wednesday at a Tampa Salvation Army center, and hold similar events in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., and Chicago.

“It’s to recognize the (homeless) situation that does exist and continually try and seek out answers,” he said. “It’s a simple meal where you get to break bread and sit with somebody and talk with somebody just like we did back in the day. … Just to let people know that you care and they’re not invisible.”

 

Respect 90 Thanksmas

Former Rays and current Cubs manager Joe Maddon (left) greets homeless clients at St. Vincent de Paul Center of Hope, St. Petersburg with his wife Jaye (right) during his annual Thanksmas dinner for the homeless on Tuesday. The effort provided the homeless with a free lunch and personal items through Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation and with the help of PDQ Restaurants. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

 

 

Maddon said he feels it is important to show up, not just write a check or arrange for donations: “Boots on the ground matter. It sends a different message that you are invested.”

Similarly, to maintain the connection with the Tampa Bay area, where they live during the offseason, have a restaurant, Ava, and “still consider this home.”

“When we first started doing this people asked me why are you getting involved in that – these are a bunch of people that don’t want to work, they’re lazy, they want something for nothing, that’s all that was said,” he said. “The concept was always the single male who was down on his luck, hanging out on the street corner panhandling. All these negative adjectives applied to him. That was the public perception.

“That was so far from the truth. I even said that back in the day, and now it’s even more obvious to me that I was right. I didn’t even know it, that was just my original impression. … Nobody ever understood the entire scope of it. I still don’t because of all the families and kids involved. … Until you get out there and involved and come to a place like this and press the flesh, and talk to the folks running it, find out the entire scope of what’s going on. It’s such a multi-layered, almost impossible to figure out situation.”

 

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.