"So look up dear sister, there is an answer somewhere.We just can't see though our tears. . . . You and I are alone by no means, it's just that we feel so alone at times. But after every cloud, there is a sun to shine, so if we know the sun is bound to shine after the rain, we have some hope."
-- From a letter to Arlene Robinson.
The lonely paper bag and park bench odyssey of Arlene Robinson and her six young children has come to a happy end. Like millions of Americans everywhere, they will be together for the holidays, sharing a meal for the first time in nearly a year in a place they are free to call home.
Robinson, the once-homeless welfare mother was the subject of a recent article in The Washington Post, has accepted a four-bedroom apartment in Northeast Washington's Brentwood Village, a 500-unit federally subsidized complex.
Her first order of business after moving in, she says, "will be to cook the kind of Christmas dinner I've never been able to give my kids."
The Robinsons have other reasons to celebrate this Christmas. More than 500 Washington-area residents offered food, clothing and shelter and gave her about $1,000 after reading of her plight.
Rudolph Bixby, Brentwood's property manager, read of how the 29-year-old Robinson truged through the streets of Washington, her belongings in paper bags and children in hand, in search of a place where the entire family could live together on the $543.03 from her monthly welfare check.
Finally, with her spiritual reserve depleted and her physical strength almost gone, she sent her four sons to live with an elderly aunt, and feared that her family was permanently torn asunder. She kept her two daughters with her and they lived wherever they could find shelter.
Bixby called the Rev. Tom Nees at the Community of Hope to find out if Robinson would be interested in looking at a four-bedroom unit that soon was to be available in Brentwood.
"I wasn't trying to be a hero," Bixby said, "but it just seemed that here was a chance for us to do something worthwhile." Bixby said four-bedroom units rarely open at Brentwood, "or anywhere else for that matter, because with the rental situation the way it is, people who need that much space just don't move very often."
Robinson will pay a $50 security deposit and rent of $165 per month to occupy the apartment, but it is the concern of her fellow human beings that has overwhelmed her.
The examples, including the letter urging Robinson to not give up hope, point to the heart of a city filled with transients and strangers.
One caller said he was a 45-year-old man. He was weeping as he asked for Robinson's address.
"My daddy left when I was born," he said. "I know what it's like to be a boy alone. I just have to do whatever I can to help those kids."
Pink flowers danced across the soiled envelope another person sent. The envelope contained three $1 bills.
"We are in the same situation," the anonymous note said, "but I want to do what I can. Merry Christmas."
"I feel as if the whole world has opened up for me and my babies," robinson said last week. "Just to know there are so many people who care what happens to a total stranger is really a beautiful thing. I was so down, you know; I had no home and I thought I was going to lose my sons, and you start feeling sorry for yourself when you're in that situation. There were days when I just wanted my whole life to be over. Now I feel like I have friends."
Robinson said she couldn't believe the size of the apartment, a modern unit with carpeting and a fully-equipped kitchen. "I've never seen an apartment that big in my life . . . Rev. Nees was teasing me that I'd get lost in it because it has so much space."
Robinson, The Community of Hope, and The Post were deluged with calls from people who became worried after reading about how she was trying to make ends meet on her monthly welfare income. Many who could not make financial contributions or offer a place to live gave toys and clothing to the children, who are between the ages of 4 and 13. The Giant supermarket chain has donated both food and toys to the family.
Robinson says she now will concentrate on finding a job and returning to school in the hopes of getting off welfare forever. One concerned caller offered to pay her tuition to cosmetology school, and Robinson says she has glady accepted. She also has decided to become a volunteer at the Community of Hope, "because now it's my turn to help somebody else."
Last week, after opening her first savings account, Arlene Robinson made a purchase. One large box of thank you notes.
"The kids and I are going to write to each person who tried to help. And I'm going to save the letters because I want to make sure they understand that in this life, some of the most valuable things you do are the things you do for someone else."