A simple Facebook post in the community group called Free Mercer Island led to hundreds of people giving their old stuff to someone who needed it more than them — a formerly homeless man and his dog.
When Mercer Island resident Traci Brandon asked the community if they had any unwanted housewares or furniture they would like to give away, hundreds of people donated items to her friend, Al, for his new apartment.
“It was an unbelievable response,” Brandon said. “I ran around all over the place filling up my car.”
Alan “Al” Roach had been living on the streets in Seattle for about three years with his dog, Roxie. When he recently received his new Federal Way apartment via Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH), he was beyond excited, he said, but he didn’t have any items to furnish his new place.
Brandon received hundreds of items for Roach, including linens, towels, coats, dishes, pots and pans, a television, toiletries, furniture, rugs, lamps, kitchen appliances, decor, a plant, dog food, dog toys, and Safeway gift cards. Many items were practically brand new.
“It’s good stuff. Everything here is nice,” Brandon said. “It’s a nice, cozy apartment.”
Some items she went and picked up from people, some were dropped off on her doorstep. People keep coming and bringing more stuff to her, she said.
More than 300 people responded to the post, which included a picture of her and Roach.
“Al couldn’t be more thankful. He’s cried several times,” Brandon said. “For the community to rally like this around someone they’ve never even met — it’s just amazing.”
After waiting through a long process to receive his housing, Roach received a voicemail with the good news on Christmas Day. On Dec. 27, Brandon took him to sign the paperwork, and filled her car to the brim with many of the smaller items.
“I picked him up and had crammed in as much of the little things as I could, so we could barely fit in my car,” she said, chuckling.
“I was in heaven,” Roach said.
They got the keys on New Year’s Eve and Brandon rented a Uhaul in order to collect all the furniture donations and get him all moved in over the New Year holiday.
“What a great way to start my year,” Roach said. “Two weeks ago I had nothing.”
The pair had some assistance. One gentleman, a former football player who is now a mail carrier on Mercer Island, gifted some of his furniture and also lended his muscles to help unload the truck.
A few Mercer Island ladies, who said they enjoy decorating and interior design, came through and helped get everything set up and styled. They even brought fresh flowers and, in Roach’s first ever fireplace, got a fire going. Brandon’s daughter also helped along the way.
“I’m so grateful to everyone. They’ll never know how grateful I am,” Roach said.
Brandon said Roach feels he is getting a fresh start on life and has a positive outlook. He’s been so excited about everything.
He plans to write a nice thank you to everyone for Brandon to share online. He said he has had hard times and has learned a great deal along the way, always trying to remain positive and focused.
“It always seemed like at my lowest point when I really needed a booster, God sent me to the right people,” he said.
He said he appreciates the little things, like staying warm, and is ecstatic he can now take a hot shower with no time limit and then put on clean, dry clothes. He’s thankful also to be able to hang his clothes, now having hangers and a closet.
“Just those little things like that, that are just so important that you take for granted in a normal world,” he said. “When you haven’t had something for a while and you finally get it, you don’t take it for granted anymore.”
He’s excited to own more than he can stuff into his knapsack, and that he can go out and about without having to take all of his stuff with him. Now, he can safely leave his belongings in the apartment and not have to worry about it all disappearing.
“It’s little things like that, it starts to dawn on you, and I did for the first couple of days — I just walked around this place in amazement like, ‘Wow.’ So I know I’m well blessed and I’m very grateful,” he said.
He slept the first night there with no bed, but said he was way happier to be there comfily wrapped in blankets on the floor instead of on the cold ground.
“It was amazing. It all came together, and it’s not enough to tell Traci how much I appreciate her. Without her I don’t think any of this would have happened,” Roach said.
“It was just amazing how the community came together,” said Brandon, noting people felt more connected to a name and a face. She said often when people donate things they don’t normally get to see where their goods go.
“They’re like, ‘Okay, it’s to a guy named Al,’ like they just knew,” she said. “So many people donate, and that’s wonderful, but you just don’t know where your goods are going to go and you hope they go to a great cause and someone really appreciates it. But now I can say, ‘Oh, Al really appreciates it, and look at this.’”
Probably his favorite item received is the comfy recliner chair, which he said he’s fallen asleep in a few times now. Roxie likes it, too.
Brandon said Roach was thrilled to receive an iron, which was quite funny. “He’s such a neat guy,” she said.
Along with getting his new space, Roach also was just reunited with Roxie, his 9-year-old dog, whom he calls his child.
“She’s my kid,” he said. He feels his family has been reunited.
“We’ve got a home now, girl,” he said to Roxie as he stroked her ears.
Roach and Roxie had lived for several years in his car in SODO. But one day, his car, with everything in it, including his ID, was stolen while he was in the hospital, he said.
So, after that, Roach was living in a tent. But then, one night in a big rain storm, the tent caved in on him and all of his clothes and belongings were soaked.
While spending time in and out of shelters and the hospital, Roach wasn’t able to have Roxie with him. The hospital staff found a shelter for Roxie to stay at, and so she was boarded at an animal facility in Edmonds for four months.
“The hardest thing was being away from her these last four months,” Roach said.
Roach said he served in the Navy from 1971-1979, which included time overseas in Vietnam. He said he worked as a hospital corpsman, like a medic, and performing duties similar to that of a licensed practical nurse.
He said he spent many years caring for his mother and brother, now both deceased, and feels God has given him this time for himself now. He wants to learn to drive a dirt bike and dreams of someday summiting Mount Shasta.
He spent some time living in Wisconsin until coming to Seattle some three years ago. Not long after that, he met Brandon while she was working in the area.
Brandon works for Island Choral Experience and would often go to their storage unit in Seattle, where she saw a gentleman with a big smile and his dog living out of a car, she said.
One day, she had some extra chocolates and brought them over to Roach, who was delighted to take the chocolate. She said she remembers him exclaiming, “I love chocolate!”
The two struck up a conversation. Brandon said Roach never asked her for anything.
Over time, and with mutual respect for one another, the two became close friends. Over the years, they have been there for each other and have been working on getting Roach situated.
Roach said he is forever grateful for Brandon’s help, but she said it’s just what friends do.
Roach is getting ready to undergo two major surgeries, one reason he was able to get his place now sooner than later, and will be able to recover in the comfort of his own home now.
Brandon said she was amazed by the community aspect of all of this. She met so many people when receiving their items and heard many of their stories. She said one parent even told her their 8-year-old wanted to give Roach their toys to play with.
“The community really changed one person’s life. It’s wonderful. And many people have been touched by this story,” Brandon said.