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She took what she learned from being homeless to help others

Rhonda Lackie washes the feet of the homeless in Orlando
Rhonda Lackie washes the feet of the homeless in Orlando
Rhonda Lackie

“I know what it’s like to not know where you’ll be resting your head that night or where your next meal is coming from,” Orlando resident Rhonda Lackie explained. “I know how it feels to lose everything.”

By the time she was 21 years old, Lackie was living in Idaho, she was the mother of an infant girl and was addicted to illicit drugs. She felt there was no way out and tried to commit suicide. While she was still in the hospital, she signed custody of her daughter over to her father to avoid losing her completely.

Still, the addictions seemed to be getting worse. Her world was in turmoil and she had no direction in her life. She really didn’t care to have direction; it didn’t matter to her.

In 2004, Lackie was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. After bailing out, she returned to the subsidized apartment she was living only to find an eviction notice. She made her way into the apartment and realized that most of her belongings were stolen. She packed two suitcases – one that had her clothes, journals, and other personal items, the other was packed full of all the things she held for her daughter including her clothes, pictures, crib bedding, and stuffed animals.

At the time, Lackie had a boyfriend and they were able to stay at his friend’s homes, but when he got arrested a short time later, she had no place to stay. She had allowed some of her acquaintances to stay with her from time to time, but when Lackie needed help, no one would come to her aid.

She was still carrying 2 heavy suitcases with her. She could not leave them unattended because she feared they would get stolen. A decision had to be made and the painful memory of that decision remains with her. Lackie had to get rid of 1 suitcase and the only logical one was her daughters. She rationalized and thought if she ever gets her daughter back, the clothes won’t fit anyway. Still, there were her daughter’s personal items that she had to give to Goodwill. “I will never forget standing at that drop box, balling my eyes out as I dropped each item in. one at a time,” Lackie recalled. “I smelled each teddy bear and shirt before I let go of it. It was excruciatingly painful. I Did keep 1 or 2 things, but it really didn’t make the pain any better.”

Then the reality of her situation set in – Lackie was homeless. She had no permanent place to sleep, or cook her meals, or keep her possessions. “I slept in unlocked cars, abandoned houses, and behind buildings,” Lackie admitted. “I had never felt so hopeless and demeaned..”

“I will never forget the day that I asked a handsome young couple if they could spare some change and the guy looked at me for a brief moment and then spit in my face,” Lackie recalls. Some, on the other hand, tried to help her, but she was not ready for that kind of help. “ I remember being told back then that God had an amazing purpose for my life, and all I could do is laugh at them.”

Lackie was homeless for about six months. “Those six months were some of the worst times in my entire life,” she admitted.

When Lackie’s aunt learned of her niece’s situation, she invited her to live in Florida. Eagerly accepted the offer and caught a Greyhound bus on September 27, 2004. That also marked the last day she ever used methamphetamine. “I stepped off that bus and into my new life,” Lackie said.

Lackie lived with her aunt for about a year re-adjusting to a stable life, then she met husband and her life continued to change for the better.

“My husband was the first person that I really told about my life as a homeless drug addict,” Lackie admitted. “I had spent close to a year pretending that my past didn’t exist but when I met my husband, I knew I had to tell him the truth about my past and why I was on probation.”

Lackie was concerned her husband would leave her if he knew about her previous lifestyle.”I was wrong though,” she explained, “Instead of running away, he drew closer. I got my daughter back in October, just a couple weeks after I left Idaho. Moving to Florida changed and saved my life. I am certain I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t moved here.”

Her family is growing and settled here in Orlando now. They are enjoying a stable home environment and Lackie remains drug-free. But she has not forgotten her time on the streets. “Ten years ago if you had told me that things would get better and that I’d be living this life now- living in Orlando, Florida, happily married with four kids – I would have never believed you,” Lackie said.

Now that Lackie is able to look back at her life, she realized there was a very special woman that took her under her wings and helped Lackie, even when Lackie may not have even wanted the help at that time. Her name was Alannah.

“God didn’t really bring us together until I had gotten heavily involved in a bad crowd and was using drugs often,” Lackie said. “The Lord burdened her heart for me and she frequently would come over to see how I was doing and to try to help me. Alannah invited me to her family get-togethers and made me feel included.”

Alannah even cared for Lackie’s daughter while she was in drug rehab for 30 days. “She did whatever she could to help me and encourage me to stay on the right path,” Lackie said. Rehab was not easy for her. She relapsed several times but this friend never left her side. “She talked to me a lot about God and even bought me my first cross necklace which I wore for four years straight.” Lackie later gave that necklace to a struggling heroine addict hoping the same glimmer of hope that helped her would also help this addict.

“The love and compassion she showed me is what ultimately helped me to believe in myself again,” Lackie said of Alannah . “I started going to church, I got a job, and eventually I got the courage to ask my family for help. Knowing that someone cared about me and believed in me helped me to believe in myself. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I do what I do.”

Lackie was given much in terms of temporary housing, clothing, food and other necessities while she was battling addiction and striving for a way out of homelessness. She knows how it felt to receive when she was in need. And now she is giving back to those in our community who need assistance.

She went to downtown Orlando hoping to talk to some of the homeless to see what their needs were. Lackie would visit the blue boxes which are official “panhandling zones.” Blue boxes are painted on the sidewalk in various areas in downtown Orlando designating that panhandling is permitted there.

“I quickly realized that so many of them would rather have someone listen to them and truly care, rather than the taking the spare change in their pockets,” Lackie explained.

The first person she talked with taught Lackie a great deal about the general needs of the homeless. Her name was Tammy and Lackey stood on a corner with her for over an hour and “just listened as she talked and cried about her life and her struggles,” Lackie recalled. “She told me about her life prior to being homeless and what the last 10 years of living on the streets had been like for her.”

Lackie learned about Tammy’s needs for clothing, shoes and hygiene products. She also learned that that these are constant needs for the homeless since their belongings can get stolen and they often cannot carry too many changes in clothes with them so the needs change as the seasons and temperatures change.

“I go downtown a few times a week to distribute clothing, hygiene and care packages to the homeless,” Lackie explained. “I’ve been doing this on my own but it’s since gotten bigger than what I can manage on my own so I make posts on social media sites a couple times a week asking for people to help me collect clothing and other necessities, and I invite them to join me when I go downtown.”

Lackie also humbles herself before those she serves once a week. “On Wednesdays, I wash the feet of the homeless and work on building relationships and sharing the love of God with those that need to be reminded of it so much,” she said.

While most of her volunteer work is done independently, Lackie has recently joined efforts with Adriana’s Attic, a local non-profit that helps those in need by providing clothing, medical supplies, hygiene supplies, and food. “What I do throughout the week with the homeless is on my own,” Lackie explained. Since Adriana’s Attic is a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit, she is able to collect larger donations because of the tax deduction she can offer the donors.

Lackie plans on continuing her ministry but she is not sure what new directions she will take.

“I really don’t know what the future has in store for me but I do believe this is just the beginning of something big,’ Lackie said. “It is my mission to be a vessel of God’s love and I’ll follow whatever path the Lord sets before me.”

“I know I can’t save the world,” Lackie admitted, “but if I can just remind people that they are precious in God’s eyes and that their lives matter., then maybe, just maybe, change will begin to take place.”

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