Hero Next Door: Tom Gillis and Ellen Walden

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- In the 2009, the economy tanked, leaving millions of Americans unemployed.

During that time, a couple that took their losses and turned them into gains for thousands of homeless people here on the First Coast.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights," said Tom Gillis

If any couple understands the crippling effect the economy had on Americans in 2009, it's Ellen Walden and Tom Gillis.

Tom lost his job of 15 years as a project superintendent with Venture Construction Company.

"It was very difficult. First you're faced with not having that weekly pay check coming in," said Gillis.

For weeks, Gillis vigorously searched for work.

"You're putting your resume out there but you're getting the same story of course. 'Tom I'd hire you in a minute. You've got the experience and a good reputation but I'm getting rid of people who have worked for me for 20 years.'"

Not being able to find employment, Gillis became depressed. He and Walden had to go into their savings and IRAs to make ends meet.

"It was hard and our lifestyle certainly had to change," Walden said.
But in the mist of his family's financial troubles, Gillis realized his situation wasn't as bad as some.

While reading the local newspaper, he found hundreds of stories about people who once had good jobs that are now homeless.

"Just when you think you've got it bad. they've really got it bad," he said.

But what really caught his attention were the groups in St. Johns County asking for volunteers to help feed the homeless.

Gillis decided to get involved and his wife did the same.

"I was just shocked that he wanted to do it," Walden said.

At the intersection of Holmes Boulevard and State Road 207, Gillis and Walden first began feeding homeless people in front of this abandoned convenience store. Before the owners asked them to leave, they did.

The couple moved directly across the street to another location before the real estate agency asked them to move because they were "a distraction."

Green Power has allowed them to use their property and they've been at that location ever since.

Tom Gillis and Ellen Walden are our "Heroes Next Door."

If you know someone in your neighborhood who is doing great things and should be nominated a "Hero Next Door," shoot Chris Porter an email, leave a message on his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter, and he'll show them some love.


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment