All Alan Vandevander wanted when he went inside Whole Foods was a sugar fix to keep from passing out, but he had no idea that his quest to find a roll of Life Savers candy was about to change the course of his already interesting life. When Stephanie and Al Blackbird noticed the disheveled homeless man clutching on for dear life to a crumpled up $5 bill, they couldn’t help but stare at him.
Alan was in an affluent part of North Scottsdale in Arizona, and he didn’t seem to fit in. In fact, he looked looked a little bit lost as he stared at the high-priced offerings in the candy aisle, and it was obvious to the couple that the emaciated man wasn’t used to shopping at the famously expensive grocery store. Stephanie’s conscience wouldn’t let her walk away, but after striking up a conversation with Alan she was astonished to discover that this down-and-out veteran had actually been “missing” for almost 40 years.
The Blackbirds felt bad for Alan and offered to buy him some food. He was very thin and needed more than just candy to fill his energy reserves. After they parted ways, the couple went home but couldn’t get Alan off their minds. Stephanie couldn’t get to sleep that night because she was thinking about him! So the next day, on Christmas Eve, the couple went out into the desert to track him down. On the GoFundMe page the Blackbirds set up for Alan, Stephanie said:
“After 2 1/2 hrs of walking back and forth and scouring the desert, we almost gave up. We got in the car to go home, but decided to drive up a dirt path in the opposite direction and said a prayer to the Creator to please help us find Alan, and within 3 minutes, WE FOUND HIM!”
Just like birds, people flock to the desert southwest during the winter months because the weather is pleasantly warm. But, sometimes folks like Alan stay a lot longer than they first anticipated. While most of them actually have an air-conditioned home to weather out the summer months, Alan has been living out in the open desert, quite literally, for 20 years.
Unfortunately, Alan didn’t want to go to a shelter to get help, so the Blackbirds brought him some more food, and visited with him a bit. They promised to return the next day with a Christmas meal.
“The next day, Christmas Day, we returned to his “camp”, bearing gifts of food and other necessities, but his health had declined and he could no longer eat, so we urged him to come with us to the hospital. He was very reluctant, but I said we were NOT leaving, and he needed help. After much coaxing, he agreed and we transported him to the hospital, where he currently remains as they stabilize him. It turns out he is very dehydrated, malnourished and had also had a heart attack!”
After Alan got the immediate care that he needed, the couple dug deeper into his past and discovered that Alan had quite the story to tell! He wasn’t just a homeless man, he was a decorated vet who served in Vietnam and was awarded a purple heart. But, that’s just the beginning of his fascinating life!
Alan’s childhood was filled with trauma and he lost his mother at the hands of another when he was just 6 years old. He had a family back in Indiana who had no idea that he was alive, so Stephanie used her sleuthing and technology skills to track them down.
“They had been searching for him for 38 years! We connected them via Facebook and I tearfully listened as his younger sister wept with joy, explaining that the family had tried numerous times to contact him, to no avail. They assumed he had died, not hearing from him all those years. More family members are finding out and this story just gets better and better!”
With the help of the Blackbirds, Alan is in contact with advocates at the VA so that he can apply for benefits. In the meantime, the couple is raising funds for clothing, basic necessities, and a place for Alan to live. It’s a long road ahead, but Stephanie and Al won’t “let go until Alan is back on his feet, living the life God intended for him.”
Stephanie’s heartbreak after finding this homeless vet all alone at Whole Foods.