MONTVILLE, NJ – “In an instant, your life can change” was the message conveyed by author Laura Schroff at the Homeless Bus author event fundraiser on Jan. 5.
Schroff is the co-author of three books, two about her relationship with Maurice Maczyk, a panhandler she met on the streets of Manhattan in 1986. She had passed many panhandlers before, but “something made me stop that day,” she told the assembly at Montville Township High School.
“He was very different,” Schroff said. “He asked me for my spare change and told me he was hungry.”
Maczyk was 11 years old at the time. Schroff passed him by, continued crossing the street, but then stopped and came back. She told him if he was hungry, she would buy him lunch, but asked if she could join him.
It turned out that Maczyk had not eaten in two days. Schroff found out his father was a gang member who left at age six, and his mother was addicted to heroin and crack. Maczyk lived in a welfare hotel with his entire family in one room.
“Over lunch we realized we lived only two blocks apart, yet we came from these two vastly different worlds,” she said.
Schroff says she believes her mother, who died at an early age, brought Maczyk and her together, because she needed more in her life. She knew within the span of the meal that he was a good kid who was born into a hard life, but she didn’t know how to help him.
Maczyk stood on the same corner soon after, hoping to see Schroff again, and the result was a relationship that grew into years of dinners together, mostly at her apartment. Shroff said he was nervous at first because he thought she wanted more from him, and she was nervous because her friends had warned her to be careful of him. Eventually they grew to trust each other.
In addition to sharing meals together, Schroff also packed lunches for him, which he would swing by in the morning to pick up at her building. When she proposed the idea, Maczyk asked if she would put it in a brown paper bag. She wasn’t sure if he did, or did not want his lunch in a brown paper bag. It turns out, he did.
“When kids come to school, and they have their lunch in a brown paper bag, that means someone cares about them,” Maczyk told her.
“The bag is just paper,” Schroff said, “but what’s put inside is something we call love.”
When Schroff took him for dinner one time, he ordered breakfast, because he had no concept of what foods were normally for breakfast or lunch. He worried that his orange juice was spoiled because it had “stuff floating on top,” she told the audience with a laugh. He owned no soap or toothbrush, Schroff said.
She said Maczyk taught her blessings can be very simple, and “can happen when we go beyond ourself and our own familiar world, and reach out to another person.”
“We do want to make a difference, but the question of where to start can be overwhelming,” Schroff said. “But the opportunities are right in front of us. All we have to do is slow down, pause for a moment, and open our eyes and hearts.”
Schroff said supporting the Homeless Bus makes a difference in the lives of men, women and children. The Homeless Bus is a Towaco-based charity that has been serving meals to the homeless of Manhattan every Saturday night since 1992.
“What moves and energizes me the most is to be around people like Anna and Mark Landgrebe,” said Schroff. The Landgrebes are the owners of the Homeless Bus.
Schroff said there is a misconception that homeless people are all drug addicts, but this is not true. Many are working but simply cannot afford housing, and Schroff said she has heard this story often during her travels. She said New York City alone has more than 60,000 homeless people, and of that number, 22,000 are children.
Today Maczyk is 42 and works in construction. His seven children didn’t know about his past until Schroff’s book came out, she said.
“People always tell me Maurice was lucky to have met me, but I tell people I was lucky to have met him,” Schroff says.
Schroff answered some questions from the audience, including Maczyk’s favorite restaurant (McDonalds) and if he has “paid it forward.” Schroff says he has, within his church.
Another audience member asked about a movie from the book and Schroff said the rights just expired because she did not like the version that was written. If a new version were written, she would love to see Jennifer Garner play her character, she said.
Pine Brook resident Emily Teresa said she had read Schroff’s book “Invisible Thread” and she has gone into Manhattan to help with Saturday night Homeless Bus runs as well. She said she found Schroff to be an inspirational and motivating speaker.
“She seems really nice, and such a sweet person,” Teresa said. “I work in Manhattan, and after reading her book, I have such a different outlook when I see homeless people.”
The event raised approximately $1,800 for the Homeless Bus, according to Roberta Ginsburg, public relations coordinator for the charity.