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Utah elders, homeless: both benefit from brief encounter
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Yack Begay and his brother, Jason, are homeless in Salt Lake City, far from home on the Navajo Reservation.

So when they saw some elders passing out free sack lunches at Pioneer Park, they were both thankful and a bit surprised.

"They're out here. The cold ain't stopping them," said Yack Begay. "They've got a lot of compassion. There's still a lot of fight in them."

The elders — six women and one man from Wentworth at Willow Creek Assisted Living and Memory Care in Sandy — grinned widely as they passed out the sack lunches, pulling their sweaters closer against the cool fall breeze.

"I think it's great," said Howard Hawkins, 93, the lone man among the elders.

The occasion brought together two often marginalized groups — the older and the homeless — and both got something from it.

"Sometimes when you get older, you feel like you don't contribute much," said Barbara Uncles, 79, who has lived at Wentworth for 16 months after falling at home and going undiscovered for three days.

"Something like this, you feel like you can contribute," Uncles said. "You can help out."

Earlier Wednesday, she helped Parker Breault, the activities director at Wentworth, write messages on more than 100 paper bags, either "Go Ahead, Smile!" or "Heart to Heart." They put notes affixed with a smiley pin or chocolate kiss inside each bag, along with a bottle of water, a sandwich and chips.

Breault organized the service project after hearing some Wentworth residents say they felt their families had left them there to die.

"That's how you feel," said Uncles, who said she nonetheless knows her children love her and placed her at Wentworth because "they know I'm being taken care of."

Breault hopes to do more such service projects. Later this month, she plans to have a group help throw a Halloween carnival for school children with special needs. "I want to give them a purpose each month," she said. "They can make a difference and they need to believe it."

Margaret Griffith, 89, helped fill the bags back at Wentworth, but didn't go to Pioneer Park with the others.

The older you get, the more you have to settle for small charitable acts, like a kind smile, she said.

"We can't go out and dig a hole."

But, she said, "If you don't have charity, you don't have anything."

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton

Residents of assisted-living facilities distribute sack lunches at the Salt Lake City park.
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