FAR ROCKAWAY, Queens — Thanksgiving is where the heart is.
DeAngelo Armwood and his family have hearts are filled with gratitude this holiday as they celebrate their first Thanksgiving in three years in their own home — their own furnished home.
They had been in and out of homeless facilities until two months ago, when they moved into a small apartment in Far Rockaway, Queens.
And this Thanksgiving, they are having the whole family over for dinner — because they can. They not only have a large dining table and chairs, but sofas, end tables and lamps, and more. The Armwoods are the beneficiaries of a big-hearted veterans advocacy group that distributes free furniture to veterans coming out of homeless shelters.
“We’re not going to hear the echo in the house anymore,” Armwood tells PIX11 News as he watches volunteers placing furniture in his barren living room, and replacing air mattresses with full-sized beds in the bedrooms.
“Oh my goodness,” sighs Lakira Armwood as she directs a worker where to place a table. She chokes with emotion. “Two years ago, we were in a motel making microwave chicken from a local supermarket, and it was horrible.” And she marvels, “We have a table now, a real table. It’s been long overdue for us to actually have a Thanksgiving together.”
An Army veteran, DeAngelo Armwood was fortunate to catch the attention of the non-profit veterans help group “My Brother Vinny.” It was founded eight years ago by Paula Miritello to honor her special needs brother who succumbed to a serious illness. She bubbles with enthusiasm as she proclaims “I need to do this. I feel a responsibility to help our veterans.”
Through private donations, Miritello has now furnished the homes of almost 1,500 former homeless veterans. She directs her team of volunteers schlepping furniture and crates up four narrow flights of stairs, slowly transforming a once empty apartment into a livable home.
DeAngelo Armwood’s son and daughter watch from a window as workers unload a chest of drawers.
“Wow, this is nice,” bellows their mother who tearfully drops her head into her husband’s chest.
In less than three hours the transformation is complete. The once empty living room has become a room to be lived in. And in the bedrooms, comfortable beds replace the air mattresses.
DeAngelo Armwood joyously declares, “No complete silence and echoes anymore,” adding, “I feel like it’s the twilight zone in a way, but I feel very good at heart. It’s a house now, it’s an actual house.”
An ebullient Lakira Armwood, picks up: “It feels good. It feels like the heart is beating again.”
With his arms outstretched, the patriarch of the family embraces his wife and children, and declares “I got you guys, that’s all I need,” as they all curl into an emotional hug.
This is the heartwarming story of just one family out of the depths of homelessness with good reason to offer prayers of thanks this Thanksgiving.
Watch Marvin’s story and more like it tonight on PIX11’s Celebrate the Holidays special at 7 p.m.