Birthday party with salvation

An anonymous benefactor helps the Salvation Army throw a party for the homeless.

Published September 30, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Turning the dial of his new silver clock radio, Michael Mellessey, 51, said the music mellows him out, even if it is "hard-crank rock 'n' roll" like 97.9 WXTB-FM, 98 Rock.

"It's really kind of rough out on the streets," he said. "This relaxes my mind."

Mellessey's radio was one of 300 donated Friday for a birthday celebration for the homeless, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Salvation Army.

The celebration drew about 150 of the area's homeless to the organization's Red Shield Lodge, 310 14th Ave. S, for the first-of-its-kind event.

Why throw a birthday party for the homeless?

"Too often, we give the homeless the very least and call it adequate," said Maj. Allen Satterlee, the St. Petersburg area commander of the Salvation Army.

So, instead of routine rations like toiletries and socks, organizers made it a point to pick out perfectly impractical gifts.

Everyone received the FM clock radios along with a Salvation Army water bottle.

Children were given stuffed animals, puzzles and a host of other toys, while cakes and cupcakes were handily consumed.

The otherwise drab cafeteria was transformed into an elaborate hall, with dozens of colorful streamers, balloons and papier-mache.

"Being homeless can be dehumanizing. One day can be the same as another," Satterlee said. "But today is fun."

"It's pretty cool, man," said Denise Urksa, 42, of the day's festivities. Urksa, a women's facility resident since July, credited the organization for being "the family she never had."

Melvin Calhoun, 47, resides in the Salvation Army's facility as part of a faith-based transitional housing program sponsored by the state Department of Corrections. He called the gifts nice, but was more relieved for the help that's getting him back on his feet.

Satterlee wouldn't disclose the benefactor of the estimated $1,000 worth of gifts, sweets and decorations, but said it was a man with a burden in his heart for the homeless.

"I saw a lot of smiles" said Janet McGuire, the Salvation Army's community relations coordinator. "And that's something that means a whole lot when you're down."

Casey Cora can be reached at 727 580-1542 or at ccora@sptimes.com.