Duckler: Once homeless, thrift store owner gives to those in need
A group pose with their new hats, gloves or coats in Manchester's Victory Park on Sunday, December 23, 2012.
Goodwin is now taking donations socks, tents and tarps for people living on the streets in central new Hampshire.
Richard Goodwin photo
Richard Goodwin fixes a frame on a gift inside his shop, Dragonfly Gifts and Thrifts in Plymouth; Wednesday, December 26, 2012 . Once homeless himself, Goodwin distributed 81 supply kits to homeless people he found living on the streets of Concord and Manchester last weekend. Goodwin is still accepting donations of socks, tarps and tents to give to people living on the streets.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Richard Goodwin fixes a frame on a gift inside his shop, Dragonfly Gifts and Thrifts in Plymouth. Once homeless himself, Goodwin distributed 81 supply kits to homeless people he found living on the streets of Concord and Manchester over the weekend. Photographed in Plymouth, Wednesday, December 26, 2012.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Richard Goodwin, once a self-described snob, eventually got knocked off his pedestal, one painful step at a time.
He lost a funky interior design job that paid him a six-figure salary. He had a cocaine problem so severe that the third base line at Fenway would have looked delicious. He slept in garbage bins, once awakened by cops with guns drawn.
A week ago Sunday, though, he played the part of Santa, minus the red suit and white beard. He handed out care packages, trash bags full of clothing and blankets, to the hidden society that we often ignore. Each gift had a handwritten note of hope.
“I did what I did because I felt someone had to,” said Goodwin, who runs a thrift shop in downtown Plymouth. “I did what I did because there are so many of the homeless who go unnoticed. They get kicked to the curb by everybody, and I was one who kicked them to the curb myself, years ago.”
He kicked hard, while living the good life in Boston, which was after he left his broken home in New Hampton. That’s where he lives now with another family. No blood relation, but still his family, really.
The people who own the home there, Richard and Gladys Sanderson, are in their 80s and have stuck by Goodwin every step of the way.
But more on that later.
First, a little background on a man who once told the homeless to get off their asses and find a job.
His childhood included divorced parents. His father left home when Goodwin was 3. He is estranged from his mother and his siblings.
“My family never wanted me,” Goodwin said. “I had a really tough upbringing, and I think that’s a sufficient amount of information. I was at the Sandersons house all summer long, for days and days on end. . . . I slept there, bathed there, they fed me almost every day.”
Richard and Gladys’s only daughter, Pam, befriended Goodwin in grade school. They rode horses,
picked berries, skied on a backyard hill. With his troubled home life, Goodwin said the Sandersons “always treated me like I was one of their own.”
“They’re my parents. Gladys and Richard were supportive, caring, loving, teaching,” he said.
Richard Sanderson, 82, was a career military man who later taught pottery classes at New Hampton School. “He’s our third son,” Sanderson said simply.
Still, despite the comfort and stability the Sandersons provided, Goodwin left for Florida at 16, never finishing high school. There, he says, he lied about his age to secure a bartending job.
Next, on to Boston and his own unique business. Wealthy clients sought his creative skill, which was to add flavor and atmosphere to a room so that they could host a party for the ages.
If you wanted the tropics, Goodwin brought palm trees. He says he created silhouettes and landscapes. He took the heads off mannequins and replaced them with flowers, and he carved out the midsections for elaborate shrimp cocktail displays. He says he’d never settle for less than $10,000 per job.
When asked how much money he made, Goodwin forced out a laugh and said, “I did very well. I made a ton of money.”
Enough, Goodwin said, to blow $450,000 one year on cocaine. Enough, he said, to lose his lucrative business, overwhelmed with the responsibilities he was juggling with the drugs he was snorting.
And, before it all fell apart, enough to walk past a homeless person in the streets of Boston with a look of disgust.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was young, dumb and full of money,” Goodwin said. “I had everything I wanted, I didn’t have to ask for anything. I was a poor boy, a high school dropout, and I was like, ‘Look at me. If I can do it, get up off your ass and get a job.’ ”
Once jobless himself and strung out, Goodwin moved west, first to Phoenix, then Albuquerque. By 2002, he got hooked on crystal meth, which is why he lost a landscaping job. “I could not get my butt out of bed,” Goodwin said. “I was hung over, up until 4 in the morning, and I had to get up at 5 for work. My boss was my landlord, and he threw me out of my apartment, took my company vehicle. I went from having everything I wanted to having nothing at all.”
No job, no money, no home. Goodwin slept where he could. At his drug dealer’s house, the one that would explode because there was a crystal meth lab inside. Under bushes. In vacant buildings. And, yes, in garbage bins. This went on for a year, before Goodwin thought and thought and thought some more.
“I thought, ‘Why me, why me, why me?’ ” Goodwin said. “Then all I could think of, ‘Was it because of what I did to these homeless people?’ Some days I still ask myself why did that happen to me? Is it part of what I’m doing now? Did it happen so I would be a voice and speak up for those people, because I know what it’s like? I don’t know. I can’t say.”
He’s been clean for six years and back in New Hampton, living with Richard and Gladys, for the last three. He opened his thrift store a year ago and says business isn’t great. He buys stuff cheap, at auctions and yard sales, and tries to make a modest profit.
The place is cluttered with items new and old, some dating back to the 19th century, many no doubt with a curious past. Like Goodwin.
There are bells, tables, statues, paintings, typewriters, vases, dishes, teapots, books, furniture, baskets, mirrors, stuffed animals, rolling pins, bedpans, clocks, birdhouses, sewing machines, cassette players, fake plants, candles, pocket knives, wooden apples, salt and pepper shakers, cheese boards, lamps, and exotic, dangling necklaces, his favorite items, mailed to him from Pam, who lives in Wales.
They are not for sale, instead serving as reminders of the strong bond he has with the Sandersons. Richard and Gladys have opened their home to Goodwin, given him a place to stay, allowed him to help the people he once mocked while he works to get his business off the ground.
Goodwin collected clothing and toiletries, sent to him by friends, churches, people. He brought the bags to tents where homeless people stay, in Concord and Manchester, last Sunday. He found them under bridges, behind storage areas, in woods.
He inserted Christmas cards with messages like ”Stay strong” and “You’re not alone” and “Stay positive.”
He watched their faces light up and received lots of hugs. He told them his story, and he listened to theirs.
“I know what it was like to be homeless on Christmas and not having any place to go and not having a Christmas card, nothing at all,” Goodwin said. “All that was very hard for me. Like I told Richard and Gladys when I got home, that was my Christmas. My Christmas was done.”