HIDDEN HEROES: Formerly homeless man gives back

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Hidden Heroes is a segment that airs every Thursday on the CBS 42 Morning News with Art Franklin.  Everyone knows someone who is flying under the radar, making a difference in their community.  They don’t do it for recognition or praise.  They do it when they think no one is watching.  They do it because someone did it for them, or because it’s what weighs heavy on their heart.  

Raymond Pates is no different.  He’s a 68 year-old Vietnam veteran who works at Social Security.  But everyday before work, he drives around to local grocery stores picking up bakery items from the previous day.  He became a “gatherer”, as he calls himself, about half a year ago.  His pastor, Roland Walker, from Greater Temple Full Gospel Church needed help.  Walker and the church had been collecting food for the past 20 years, but he’d recently lost some volunteers.  Pates felt called upon by God to take up the task.  

“It was just necessary,” he said.  “There are people in the city who need to be fed.”

It’s a fact Pates knows too well.  He was once hungry and homeless.

“I made some bad decisions when I was a younger man,” he explained.  “I drank alcohol, I used drugs, and just did stupid things with my life.  Finally, it came down to a point where if I wanted, I had a choice if I wanted to die or live.”

Pates turned to his faith for help.  “I just told God, I said, that’s enough,” Pate said.  “I’m tired of this and I asked him to take it away…and he took it away.”

Pates turned his life around, and when he heard that his pastor needed help, he was ready to step up.  He remembers the times when he had to rely on the kindness and heroics of strangers. “I just said if I ever find somebody to help me [when I was homeless] that I would give it back by helping somebody to get there as well.”

Most days, Pates and Walker go to at least four Publix grocery stores across the area.  They start when it’s still dark outside.

Henry Elmore, store manager of the Publix in Homewood, said that his store had been working with the church for over 14 years.  He told CBS 42 that the church’s charitable work is something that fits in with Publix’s core values.  “We use them in another fashion to take care of the community,” Elmore said.  

After they have collected the bakery items, Walker and Pates take them back to a warehouse in Wylam where they are sorted into bags.  Pates explained that 56 different churches and agencies come by throughout the week to pick up baked goods for those in need.

We asked Pates what he thought about the word, hero.  “It’s all taken out of proportion,” he shrugged.  “Everybody can be a hero.  All you have to do is see a need and fill it.  Let God use you to fill it.”

Although humble, Pates knows that he’s living proof that you can come back from past mistakes–and sometimes, you can be reborn as a hero to someone in need.

“It’s what you leave behind that makes a difference,” Pates said.  “See I decided I’m going to help somebody eat.”

If you know a Hidden Hero, send your nominations to Leigh.Garner@wiat.com — we might just feature them in an upcoming segment.

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