On a wintry day in 1970, Georgetown University professor Veronica Maz took two of her sociology students to Washington’s skid row to see poverty close up. They talked to a few of the homeless people who were roasting chicken claws over fire barrels.
“And then I was going back to my car and my real nice comfortable home,” Dr. Maz later wrote in The Washington Post. “And a man fell down right in front of me, right on the sidewalk. And I just walked around him and got in my car.
“And when I got in my car, I started talking to myself,” she continued. “I said, ‘Why didn’t you help him?’ Well, I just assumed he was drunk. Well, what if he were drunk? He could’ve had a heart attack…All that night I didn’t sleep. It bothered me personally. Whatever these sensitivities that you grow up with that you’re not even conscious of. That’s faith.”
Dr. Maz became widely regarded as a patron saint of Washington’s hungry, indigent, abused and dispossessed.
On a shoestring budget, she helped start three of Washington’s most important nonprofit social service organizations: So Others Might Eat, which offers free food, counseling and health care to the homeless; the House of Ruth, which shelters and advises battered women; and Martha’s Table, which opened in 1980 (with $93) as a place for children to get free sandwiches after school.
On House of Ruth’s first night in 1976, they gave shelter to eight homeless women in the basement of a row home on Massachusetts Avenue. At the time, the District had only a few shelters for men, and none dedicated to serving women or their children.They now serve more than 1,000 women and children every year.
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