The Doe Fund’s innovations in social services have transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people with histories of homelessness, incarceration, poverty, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS. The seeds of the organization were sown more than thirty years ago in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. In the early- to mid-1980s homelessness in New York City had reached a crisis point. People sleeping on the street were often mistaken for garbage, crushed to death by traffic and in the backs of sanitation trucks. They were denied fundamental rights and dignity while the city as a whole was overrun with trash, crime, and drugs. George T. McDonald, then a garment industry executive, was determined to help in some way. He spent 700 nights in Grand Central Terminal, handing out sandwiches and clothing to the hundreds of homeless who slept there. One was a woman known only as “Mama.”
…this is a great sandwich, but I really wish I had a room to stay in and a job to pay for it.
Although the men and women George helped were grateful for the meal, they expressed their desire for a job so that they could afford a room of their own and support themselves. It was becoming increasingly clear that food and clothing were not enough to bring about real change. On Christmas Day 1985, Mama died of pneumonia after being evicted by transit police into freezing temperatures early that morning. It was a turning point for George. He founded The Doe Fund that year in Mama’s memory to finally tackle the root causes of homelessness: lack of opportunity, skills, and support. Three years later, New York City’s rampant homelessness claimed another victim. April Savino had lived in Grand Central Terminal for several years before committing suicide at the age of 19. George delivered the eulogy at April’s funeral, which was also attended by screenwriter Harriet Karr. Harriet had been working on a screenplay about April when she received news of her tragic death. George and Harriet met that day and married six months later. Ever since, they have worked unceasingly to provide those in need with a path towards independence and prosperity.
In 1990, the McDonalds launched Ready, Willing & Able, a ground-breaking transitional work program and the nation’s first large-scale social enterprise. Designed to provide economic opportunity to homeless men, the program quickly proved equally effective in transitioning formerly incarcerated men into mainstream society. Ready, Willing & Able has since helped more than 23,000 men transform their lives. More than 30 years after Mama’s death, The Doe Fund has grown into a $61 million nonprofit that serves thousands each day through its programs. Mama’s memory is honored each Christmas Day with a candlelight vigil in Grand Central Terminal.