Getting arrested by the U.S. Park Police turned out well for Thelma Billy, of Fairfax, who ended up yesterday with a $650 gift from the U.S. secretary of agriculture and a new stove.
Billy's adventure began Saturday as she served an early Thanksgiving dinner to homeless people in Dupont Circle. The suburban housewife cooks food for several hundred District homeless people each week. On Saturday, as usual, she drove over the curb at Dupont Circle and parked on the sidewalk.
Problem is, she usually delivers on Wednesdays. The Park Police officers who normally ignore her or chat pleasantly apparently were off duty. The officer on the weekend shift took umbrage.
When the officer asked for her driver's license, Billy discovered she had left her purse in the family's Suburban back in Fairfax. The officer handcuffed her, called a patrol car and loaded her for a trip to the station while her children watched, crying.
A neighbor who was with her drove away with the children. They got lost for two hours on unfamiliar District streets. Billy, meanwhile, was stripped of her jewelry, fingerprinted and left in handcuffs until her husband arrived nearly two hours later. He paid a $25 ticket for her failure to carry her license. A $100 parking ticket was issued, and she was released.
An officer, asked for comment, summoned Park Police Lt. Peter Shannon to the phone, saying, "It's about the bimbo at Dupont Circle."
Shannon said, "The unlawful act was not distributing goods to the homeless, but operating a vehicle in the manner in which she did and not carrying her license."
An anonymous donor, however, was sympathetic. A news broadcast about the incident on WRC-Channel 4 mentioned that Billy's stove had given out after she had cooked 37 turkeys for the homeless. Yesterday, a new Whirlpool electric range was delivered to her door.
"The old stove was only a year old, but cooking for 300 people a week, it gave out," Billy said. She began making food for the homeless soon after she arrived in the United States from the Philippines and saw a man eating from a garbage pail.
She also got a visit from staffers of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who had seen the newscast.
Knowing his staff was planning something for his 55th birthday yesterday, he suggested they instead help Billy. The party fund, supplemented by Glickman, went toward a Safeway gift certificate.
"He was touched that this woman was willing to get out there to help," said staffer Mary Beth Schultheis. Glickman, she said, gave Billy a contact at the Park Police to discuss her situation further.