SAN MARCOS — Four days before Christmas, Ernest Kimble moved into the first apartment he’s lived in since 1983. It smells like new carpet.
With new countertops and a fresh coat of paint, the 750-square-foot apartment looks new and is a stark contrast to the motel off Interstate 35 that he’d called home for more than a decade and was infested with roaches.
Kristina Delgado, a Community Action Inc. of Central Texas employee, befriended Kimble about a year ago after repeatedly watching him walk to work at Burger King in tattered shoes.
Community Action nominated Kimble to Statesman Season for Caring, which highlights the stories of 12 families and helps hundreds of others through local nonprofit organizations.
Since Nov. 25, Season for Caring has raised $562,190 in monetary donations and $162,647 in in-kind donations. It has given more than $12.4 million since it began in 1999. Donations for this year, the 20th Season for Caring, may be made through Jan. 31.
On Thursday, Delgado was up until 11 p.m. washing all of Kimble’s clothes so he didn’t accidentally bring in any of his “four-legged friends,” as he calls them, to his new apartment Friday. Her two kids wiped down all of the food he’d stored in his pantry with bleach wipes, just in case.
He was trying to convince Delgado to let him keep the toiletries he’d just bought that were at the motel, but Delgado wouldn’t let him risk it.
The new apartment is about a half-mile from the Burger King, and he can walk along a quiet street with little traffic to get there instead of a busy frontage road of I-35 that has few sidewalks.
When he got off work Friday and went to his new place, his neighbors were there to greet him.
“I’ve talked to more people since I’ve been here than I ever talked to over there” at the motel, he said. When he saw all those people lined up to meet him, “I was breathless.”
Kimble, 53, will be in charge of his rent and his electric bill, but he’ll receive assistance from Community Action to cover his utilities. Even with the bills, his monthly expenses will total less than the $800 a month he was paying for the motel room, said Carole Belver, executive director of Community Action. A Statesman reader through Season for Caring is donating three months' worth of rent to help him get off on the right foot in the new place.
Belver had been storing the donations for Kimble in her office for the past few weeks, but on Friday, she and several other staffers moved Kimble into his new home.
Factory Mattress, which has donated beds to all the Season for Caring families for the past ninth years, made special arrangements to be there Friday to deliver his new king-sized bed.
One reader donated all the bathroom supplies and bedding. Another who used to work at Goodwill bought nearly two dozen thrift store shirts and took them home and washed and ironed them. He also donated an iron and an ironing board and a weatherproofed winter coat to keep Kimble warm while he walks to work.
Donors contributed two new TVs, one for the living room and another for his bedroom, as well as a set of drawers, a recliner and a love seat, a washer, a dryer, a microwave and cooking gear. He’s also getting a Roomba to help keep the floor clean.
Readers gave him a magnifying glass to help him read printed materials and a cellphone so he could stay in contact with Delgado and the rest of the Community Action staff. A reader in Cedar Park donated a dining room table.
“Everybody has been so wonderful,” Belver said.
“I’m so excited that he has his own place he can call his own,” said Delgado, who’d already cried twice while moving him in.
But he’s not just moving anywhere, she says. His new home is in a place where neighbors watch out for one another. A place where people say “hi” and aren’t looking to take anything from him.
“I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want her to feel bad, but I’ve never had anybody cry over me before,” Kimble said.
Delgado and Belver say Kimble could still use cooking classes to improve his diet, and a weekly home health care person to help sort out his pills and fill his insulin syringes. He has poor eyesight, which might require surgery in the new year.
While the Community Action staffers busied themselves setting up the apartment, Kimble sat on the recliner, overwhelmed with the commotion. On a dining room chair nearby sat a large gift bag, a present from a church in New Braunfels that had donated gifts to everyone in the complex, but Kimble didn’t want to open it just yet. He’d already had enough surprises for one day.
Kimble knows that this new kitchen means he’s going to have to start cooking for himself, especially if he wants his health to improve.
“Somebody won’t let me forget,” he said.
“I do it for your own good. We talked about that,” Delgado said.
On Christmas Day, Delgado will pick up Kimble to go with her to her family’s Christmas lunch.
“I’m not used to all this attention,” Kimble said. “I’m just taking it all in and to make sure it doesn’t change me, so I’m still the same person.”
To find out more about Ernest Kimble or to give something on his wish list, contact Community Action Inc. of Central Texas, 512-392-1161, communityaction.com.//