A deluge of love and compassion has reached a 54-year-old homeless man who had the courage to put into action the Christian tenet, “Ask, and it is given.”

Neal Shytles posted an ad on the Facebook pages of local television stations around his hometown of Virginia Beach asking for someone to invite him for Thanksgiving dinner.

I was very alone last Thanksgiving and really would not like to go throughout that this Thanksgiving… PLEASE, if you have room in your home and in your heart to share your Thanksgiving, I not only (would) be thankful, but would also consider myself blessed to spend this time with you.

Shytles has lived in the Norfolk, Virginia Union Mission shelter for a year. He pays a small amount of rent from his monthly social security check, according to WTKR-News Channel 3, who interviewed him on Tuesday about the ad.

Even before Channel 3 aired the full report Tuesday evening, he began receiving offers from viewers volunteering to adopt him for the day.

The very first call he got came from a young military family, The McLemores from Newport News, 30 miles away. They offered to pick him up, and said another military couple with children would also be coming, fulfilling his wish for a “family atmosphere” at the table.

“The girl is a sweetheart,” he said of Ashley McLemore, who called the mission and spoke with Neal Tuesday morning. “I’ve been so blessed. I love the people here at the Christian mission, but I just wanted a home to go to.”

Both the mission and the television station were flooded with calls following the story that aired later that day.

Invitations Flooded In

“I’d like to donate a turkey and corn and potatoes to whoever takes him in, wrote Tanner Doerr‎ on WTKR’s Facebook page.

Shay Shannon Blankenship‎ from Chesterfield, VA, wrote, “For the wonderful man that wants family for the holidays: I’m in Chesterfield, and I’m willing to pick him up on Wednesday and he can hang out for thanksgiving with my family for a day or two. And then I will return him to where he stays. How do I reach him?”

“I want to send him a Christmas package,” commented Joe Walls‎.

A television station in Ohio said they would send a care package, and had set up a fund for him that people were already donating to.

Neal is trying to take it all in stride, but told the Good News Network, “I cried all day yesterday. I’m a big guy, but then the reporters were reading all the letters to me that they’d gotten.”

“Sometimes you don’t see the hearts of people until something like this happens,” he said after a long pause. “People do have big hearts.”

The New Face of Homelessness?

Self-portrait by Neil Shytles

In a sense Neal has become the new face of homelessness for the many thousands of people around the country who have seen his story. He received a lot of offers from Wisconsin. A man in Sioux Falls, South Dakota offered to fly in Neal for the holiday and a family in Arkansas who owns a trucking company even offered to have their truckers pick him up and bring him back again. But, Neal, who has not traveled outside of his state except to DC, said he was already committed to the McLemores. “Maybe Christmas!” they responded.

The former taxi cab driver hopes he can get some of the other guys from the mission placed with a family. “I know they are responsible and they would like to have a family atmosphere, too.”

“Last night, Paul, who works here but is also homeless, said, ‘Oh my gosh, that is such a good idea. I wish I would have thought of it.'”

Perhaps Neal’s story has planted seeds for the future, like when Kimberly Kelly posted on Facebook, “I’m starting a program called Home for the Holiday in the Charlottesville area to help others get adopted! I would love this program to spread.”

As often happens when stories of homeless people go nation, two of Neal’s relatives contacted him.

“My cousin saw it in south carolina, and they got kinda mad because I never told them my situation. they saw it and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell us about what was going on?’ It was really important to me that someone who is actually family, showed me they cared. They were really upset. They asked me if I needed anything.”

“I texted my best friend who lives in Detroit, telling him about the media reports. He said, ‘See, people do want to help. All you have to do is ask.'”

(WATCH the follow-up video featuring the McLemores below)

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  1. Why does it take a homeless man to place an ad in order for someone to help? Is it because when we stop and think about the sheer number of actual homeless people we become discouraged and desensitized, and think our small little offerings wouldn’t make a difference? If that is the case, then we need to stop and rethink the way we deal with the homeless. It shouldn’t have taken a homeless man, to take out an ad in his paper saying he is looking for a family to share a meal with.

  2. I know what it’s like to spend holidays alone. I have little family left, and the nearest is close to a thousand miles away. I’m not homeless, but it sure would be nice to have a way to hook up with new “family”, short of placing an ad.

  3. But placing an ad would be easy and may yield positive results! Yes, it would be great to have some sort of matching service that seniors, travelers and others could use! I think it could be huge!

  4. Do you know how I can get in touch with Kimberly Kelly who is starting the holiday adoption program in Charlottesville? I’m also here in C’ville and would love to participate and help her in any way I can. Do you know what Facebook page it was she posted to?

  5. Ooo, that would be great. I read her comment one of the postings at the WTKR-News Channel 3 Facebook page. It was one of the earlier postings dating back to Tuesday. Let us know if you get in touch with her. Good luck.

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