“God is where the poor are”: Five years ago, Phyllis Crawford, 61, took a class that forced her to examine her life by looking at her calendar. She was told that “what you saw there would show where your love is.”
When she looked at her calendar, there were five tennis games and four afternoons of bridge on the schedule.
“Sometimes he [God] does call you to do fun things,” she said,
“But I thought I’d best do some volunteering.”
Crawford was no stranger to volunteer work. In the past, she had worked with her church, the Christian Women’s Club and the Child Health Investment Partnership.
“But it got so hectic,” she said. They were all worthy causes, but this time around, she needed something that spoke to her soul.
“When you serve the poor, you are serving God,” she said. “God is where the poor are.”
WORKING AT RAM: Crawford heard about Roanoke Area Ministries’ day shelter through her church, Our Lady of Nazareth.
Many of the people who pass through the shelter don’t have identification. Since homeland security measures have been implemented, the amount of documentation needed for an ID card is often all but impossible for RAM’s poor and homeless clientele to get. It can take two to four months to process an ID card.
“It’s time consuming” said Jo-Anne Woody, RAM’s administrative assistant. “But you can’t get a full- or part-time job with out it.”
Money from The Roanoke Times’ Good Neighbors Fund goes toward paying fees associated with getting the ID cards.
On her first day at the shelter, Crawford said she really wanted to cook, but RAM always has a need for people to check guests in at the front desk, and that’s where she found herself.
“The front desk was nice. I like working with people,” she said.
Crawford still tears up when she thinks about the stories she hears from the people who walk through RAM’s front doors.
IN THE KITCHEN: One day, when the cook didn’t show up, Crawford volunteered to go into the kitchen and whip up a chicken dinner for 150 people.
“Otherwise, it would have been peanut butter and jelly,” she said.
She’s been there since, volunteering by herself on Tuesdays, and with her church on Sundays.
COMMON GROUND: Crawford and her husband, Jim, an anesthesiologist, live in an upscale Roanoke County home with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
But Phyllis Crawford is no stranger to the poverty she sees at RAM. As one of seven children of a truck driver in San Diego, “sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat.” She often went to school without breakfast. “But I didn’t know we were poor,” she said.
Her father “always had a second job,” and even though the family had very little, her mother didn’t hesitate to help others.
“Why do the poor always make sure that if someone needs something, they get it?” she said.
Jim Crawford became a physician the hard way — starting as a medic during the Vietnam War and becoming a registered nurse and a physician assistant along the way. While he was in medical school, the tiny trailer they lived in seemed luxurious, Phyllis Crawford said.
When Jim Crawford was offered a job in Roanoke, he took it.
“We loved it here,” Crawford said. “It was the homeyness of the people.”
A SUDDEN ILLNESS: On June 6, Crawford felt ill and was taken to the emergency room. There they discovered she had suffered a stroke, which paralyzed her left side. She amazed her doctors by recovering almost completely in four weeks.
She credits her recovery to the hundreds of people who heard about her condition and prayed for her. In her living room is a basket filled with the 200 cards and letters that she’s received so far.
“I even have the people at McDonald’s praying for me,” she said.
But when her doctors told her what had caused the stroke, the news was grim. They found tumors in her brain, her lungs and her kidneys. In June, she went through surgery to remove the bulk of the brain tumor, then followed up with a round of chemotherapy.
Despite her troubles, Crawford is not one to sit around and feel sorry for herself.
“I’m a go-getter,” she said. Within days of the operation, she went to a wedding, where she slow-danced with her husband.
She traveled to visit her family in San Diego, and she has battled the pain and nausea to take her place in RAM’s kitchen.
Since her illness, Crawford said she has been enjoying life more than ever.
“Everything is more intense. Before, I was giving 90 percent to God, now I’m giving 100 percent.”
In October, Crawford underwent an operation to remove one of her cancerous kidneys and is at home recovering from the surgery.
Previously Mom’s Magazine Article