Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy lives that we can stop noticing what is going on around us. The people that live in small towns down the road may be no more than a blur as we pass by to our final destination.
One day, Sal Dimicel passed a small town like that while tending to his real estate business. But for some reason, Sal stopped to look a bit harder, and saw people in desperate need of help. Instead of continuing on with his business, what Sal did that day started a mission of courage that continues to provide a willing heart and hand to new found friends. Sal chose to act, and shows us the power one person can have to make a positive change.
Excerpt from a wonderful December 2000 Time article about Sal Dimicel:
There are 3,300 residents of Pembroke Township, 65 miles south and a world away from Chicago. The single small commercial district within the township, originally settled in the 1950s by former farm workers who had migrated from the South, has now all but disappeared. The 4-Way Deli is the only store in the town, which has no supermarket, bank or restaurant. For those things, townspeople, many of whom are poor, black and without cars, must take the one available daily bus to Kankakee, which is 20 miles to the west. There is no natural-gas line in Pembroke Township; residents heat their homes with bottled gas, coal or firewood. Some still do not have running water and carry it in buckets drawn from wells or pumped by hand. And in the Pembroke Elementary School District, nearly all 742 children qualify for free daily breakfast and lunch. “On windy, snowy days, when all the other schools in the area are closed, I try to keep mine open,” says superintendent Billy Mitchell, 58. “I’ll never forget the day I closed them and a little girl walked to school and said, ‘Dr. Mitchell, if you’re closed, what am I going to eat?’” In short, says Genova Singleton, 47, a township trustee, “poverty is a fact of life here in Pembroke Township. This is a forgotten land.”
Forgotten, that is, save for the kindnesses of one man – Sal Dimiceli. Over the past 11 years he has donated $1.5 million in goods, services and cash to the people of Pembroke Township, where this year alone he has delivered 175,000 lbs. Of food, 35,000 disposable diapers, 25,000 rolls of toilet paper, 8,000 tubes of toothpaste, 7,500 pairs of shoes and 400 coats. In addition he has spent some $156,000 on home repairs and nearly $21,000 for residents’ overdue heating and electricity bills.
This explosion of generosity was inspired one day in the fall of 1989 when Dimiceli happened to take a shortcut on the way home to Chicago from a business trip. Driving past the desolate cluster of shotgun shacks and dilapidated mobile homes at the heart of Pembroke Township, he wondered why they were all abandoned. “Then,” he recalls, “I saw a pair of eyes peering back at me, and I realized there were people living inside.” Stunned, Dimiceli returned the next day and asked a local Baptist minister how many of the people needed help. The pastor’s reply: “All of them.”
That day, back in the suburban home that he shares now with his wife, Corinne, 40, and their four children, Dimiceli decided to help. Says Corinne: “Sal always had a big heart. This was something he had to do. He couldn’t turn his back on those people.” At first he and some friends made occasional visits to Pembroke with trucks full of gifts and supplies. Soon “word spread like wildfire that we were in town,” says Dimiceli. “We would drive through and people would be standing outside their houses waiting for us to come.” By 1989 Dimiceli founded the nonprofit organization, The Time Is Now. “I was so upset seeing children and the elderly freezing and going hungry,” he explains, “That I said, ‘The time is now to do something.’”
After reading about Sal and his efforts, I know I will slow down and take the time to look a bit more carefully as I travel through this life. Sal has the kind of courage that can change our world for the better.
CNN Heros profiled Sal in this wonderful video clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6c8GIRxG34
You can visit Sal’s web site and learn more at: http://www.timeisnowtohelp.org/index.html