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Efforts of Highspire woman help lead homeless man to friends, family in Atlanta

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/16/19

Barb Weaver met Jack outside of Subway on Second Street in Highspire.

She saw him sitting on a bench with a shopping cart. Jack was a big guy — around 6 feet, 7 inches tall, she estimated …

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Efforts of Highspire woman help lead homeless man to friends, family in Atlanta

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Barb Weaver met Jack outside of Subway on Second Street in Highspire.

She saw him sitting on a bench with a shopping cart. Jack was a big guy — around 6 feet, 7 inches tall, she estimated — in his 60s with a full beard.

“He was just sitting there. He wasn’t bothering anybody,” Weaver said.

She thought he might be hungry, so she ordered two meatball subs, two cups of coffee and two bags of chips. Weaver walked over and told him she bought him lunch.

Jack asked if she wanted crackers, pulling some out of his cart. She told him she had enough food, and he asked her if she would eat lunch with him.

Jack wasn’t his real name, but that’s what he told Weaver, who lives in Highspire, to call him.

Jack didn’t say much.

“But I knew the second he offered me crackers the kind of person he was. Never asked anyone for a dime. Never asked anyone for a cigarette. Never bothered anybody,” Weaver said.

She didn’t know that initial gesture in early November would lead to many more meetings, a friendship and eventually a tearful goodbye between the two.

Under the bridge

A week after the Subway meeting, Weaver saw Jack pushing his cart in the November rain toward Highspire on Route 230, not far from Sheetz.

Jack had a small umbrella that barely covered his head. She tried to turn around to offer her umbrella in her trunk, but he disappeared.

Nearby was the Airport Connector bridge. Weaver said she asked herself where she would go to get out of the rain, and she decided to pull to the side of the road.

She found him lying in a sleeping bag on top of a piece of cardboard under the bridge. She offered him her umbrella, 18-hour hand warmers, a flashlight and a cup of coffee.

When she left, she was uneasy.

“I knew what it was like,” she said.

Years ago, Weaver had been in the same position. She was homeless for a few months and slept in her car.

All she wanted to do was make Jack more comfortable, and he was still unprotected from the elements. She gathered a tent, trundle bed and some of their other camping gear from her house because it was becoming cold.

Over the next several weeks, Weaver visited Jack every day. They had breakfast in the morning and in the evenings they played cards.

How Jack got here

Jack eventually told her his story.

He lived all over the country. He never had kids. He was trying to get to New York from California to visit a friend when he ended up in Middletown.

His bus wouldn’t let him back on in Albuquerque, for reasons that were not clear, but a man who was driving from New Mexico to New Jersey offered him a ride.

The man’s car broke down on Route 283 just outside Middletown. They walked to Sheetz to get help. Jack went inside to use the restroom and get a drink. By the time he got outside, the man who was giving him a ride was gone along with all of his belongings inside the car.

Jack told Weaver that he didn’t even know how to get back to the car. He waited to see if the man returned to Sheetz.

He never did.

That was in September.

Weaver didn’t meet Jack until November. All he had was some money in his pocket. Jack told Weaver that he used to work as a carpenter. Weaver, who refurbishes antique furniture, paid Jack to sand furniture. 

She picked him up at his campsite and brought him to her house. Jack took a shower, and Weaver washed his clothes. It was the first shower he had in two-and-a-half months.

“He felt like a new man when he came out,” Weaver said.

But the tent drew attention. One police officer stopped by, but he didn’t make Jack leave. The officer received a complaint about the fire, worried that it would spread to the surrounding brush. He brought Jack a fire screen and asked if he needed anything else.

Other people helped, including Steven Rittner of Highspire, who stopped by after hearing about Jack on social media.

“Some people said some not so nice things, so I made a decision that I was going to do what I could to help,” Rittner said.

Jack was never at his campsite when Rittner came by, but he dropped off fire supplies and tent stakes.

A tearful goodbye

Rittner went by the site to see if Jack wanted to spend Christmas Eve with his family.

“I didn’t want him to be out alone in the cold on Christmas Eve,” Rittner said.

Weaver said Jack spent Christmas Eve at the Starlite Motel in Londonderry Township.

Jack spent Christmas day with Weaver’s family playing cards and dice. That night, Weaver offered Jack her bed.

“I wouldn’t let him go back to the tent. I said, ‘You sleep in my bed tonight,’” Weaver said.

The next morning, Weaver took him to the Harrisburg train station. She asked him where would he go. Atlanta, he said, where he has friends and family.

Weaver and her husband bought him a train ticket for Christmas. Jack got on the train with a bicycle that someone had dropped off at the campsite, and his backpack.

“I bawled the whole way home. I had to pull over in Steelton because I couldn’t see to drive. I’m going to miss him,” Weaver said.

After Jack left, Weaver went to clean up the campsite. Waiting there were wrapped meals filled with ham and potatoes, Christmas gifts, gift bags, cookies and Christmas cards. Weaver had no idea how many people were helping Jack out.

“It just filled my heart with joy to know so many people out there cared so much to help take care of him,” Weaver said.

They took down the tent and packed up the site. Weaver put all of Jack’s possessions and gifts into storage. All of the food was donated.

She placed two signs on Jack’s grocery cart, explaining what happened to him and listing her phone number if they wanted more information.

Rittner was angry when he didn’t see his tent, thinking the police made him leave. But once he saw Weaver’s sign, he began crying tears of joy. He called her, but he could hardly talk.

“I wanted to help her in any way that I could,” he said.

Jack said he wanted to come back in the spring, and Weaver hopes he does.

“It was definitely an experience. I enjoyed meeting him so much. We became friends,” Weaver said.