Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, Michelle Walker Arel told The Beacon she would never stop fighting for her mother.
Her mother, Christine Ann McCaleb, 67, had been stabbed to death in the early-morning hours of Oct. 16, 2019, allegedly by Jared Shaw, who was 32 at the time. Police reports indicated Shaw believed McCaleb had been using a blanket that was his.
On Sunday, March 14, representatives of a nonprofit organization Arel created in her mother’s honor will visit locations in DeLand and Ormond Beach to distribute blankets to anyone who wants to participate. Volunteers are invited to give the blankets directly to the homeless, or leave them on benches in places where the homeless sleep.
- When: 3-3:45 p.m. Sunday, March 14
- Where: Kneading Sweets Bakery, 115 E. Rich Ave., DeLand
- What: Second Annual Blanketing Benches – blanket distribution to benches and homeless individuals
- For more information on this event, click HERE.
In the aftermath of McCaleb’s death, Shaw was declared incompetent to stand trial, and he has been involuntarily committed to a treatment facility, according to court records.
Both Shaw and McCaleb suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, a debilitating disease that was the root of their homelessness, members of their families said.
“Last year, on Oct. 16, 2020, a year from that horrible day, Christine’s Blankets became a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless by providing blankets and other bare essentials, like socks, gloves and jackets,” Arel said.
The organization, named for her mother, has provided nearly 1,000 blankets to homeless populations in Ormond Beach and DeLand since it was formed, along with at least 500 items of clothing, and travel-size containers of shampoo, conditioner and soap.
The items are donated by the public at 10 drop-off locations in the county, Arel said, and distributed to places like The Bridge in DeLand, the Salvation Army, and homeless shelters in Daytona Beach, including Hope Place and The Bridge of Hope.
“We take [items] to a lot of places that serve the homeless. That’s where they’re going to gather the most,” Arel said.
The stated mission of Christine’s Blankets is “Providing blankets and other essentials to the homeless for comfort and encouragement in order to remind them that they are loved and not forgotten.”
Arel was inspired in part by her mother’s generous spirit, she said.
“If Jared would have just asked for the blanket, she probably would have given it to him,” Arel said. “That’s the type of person she was — she always gave you more than what she could, really.”
Interacting with the homeless community has connected Arel with the memory of her mother, she said.
“I’m always surprised; the people I met in the last year or so that said they knew my mom. And I get to hear these great stories, and it’s like… wow, it’s amazing. And then I feel that connection still,” Arel said.
She, along with her husband, who owns and operates a mobile disc-jockey business, have also staged events that combine blanket donations and musical entertainment. At one of those events, she met a man who was nearby the night her mother was killed.
“One of the guys came up to me and said, I was there that night. I saw her,” Arel said. “Just to see the love and the hurt in his eyes, it amazed me. That was a huge connection.”
There are others, too, close friends of her mother’s, whom she had never met.
Her experience with her mother’s homelessness guides Arel’s interactions as she distributes the essential items, she said.
“My mom being homeless for eight years, and dealing with her and her illness, and the people around her — since then, it’s been 10 years under my belt now dealing with the homeless, and you kind of learn different things,” Arel said.
One thing she has learned: No one-size-fits-all judgment is possible.
“We’re all equals, regardless of our situation; we’re all equal, and you need to speak and treat them that way. Just because they’re down — and you have to realize that some of them might be miserable. Some of them might be intoxicated,” Arel said. “Some may appear intoxicated, but that doesn’t mean that they are. Sometimes being extremely exhausted, or starving to death, can make you stumble. So treat them with respect.”
In honor of what would have been her mother’s 69th birthday on Monday, March 15, Christine’s Blankets has planned two distribution events for March 14.
“In honor of her and her birthday, we’d like to ‘blanket’ as many benches as possible,” Arel said. “We will have the blankets all ready for you! You’ll just need to come pick them up. And of course, gift them on a bench of your choice, or gift to a homeless person, if that suits you better.”
In Ormond Beach, the second annual Blanketing Benches event will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 14, at The Anointed Olive, 203 E. Granada Blvd., Suite 203. At 3 p.m. Sunday, March 14, Christine’s Blankets will pick up donations at Kneading Sweets Bakery, 115 E. Rich Ave. in DeLand.
For more, visit www.christinesblankets.org
1. Do it in the daylight. There really isn’t anything to be afraid of. You will look less suspicious in the daylight.
2. Do not talk to them as you would a baby or kid, condescending or overly sympathetic. Your tone should be like you are speaking to any other adult.
3. Respect. Dignity. Grace. We’re equals!
4. Approach slowly, start talking from a distance with a slight smile. This makes you look less threatening.
5. Ask them if they can use a blanket. This is important! Some don’t like feeling like a charity case. And even though they want that blanket, they won’t admit it. Several times I’ve asked, “Hi, can you use a blanket?” They say no or shake their head no. I’ll say, “OK. Are you sure? It’s going to be cold tonight, we have plenty … .” They’ll look up and say, “Well, yeah, I suppose I could use one.”
6. If they say they have a blanket but it looks thin, ask if they want a blanket anyway. Or if they have a friend who could use one.
7. If they are sleeping, you can leave it near them. I’ve done this several times. Not once has someone awakened while I’m placing it near them. Not on them! Respectful approach.
8. It’s perfectly OK to engage in conversation, but only if they want to. Let them lead. Some are very tired and miserable. Just let the blanket and your smile be enough.
9. Stumbling does NOT mean they’re drunk! Exhaustion and weakness from hunger does that, too. That said, if you suddenly realize the person is intoxicated, just be short but sweet. “Can you use a blanket? It’s going to be cold. OK. Stay safe, God bless.” Nod your head. Whatever it takes to not seem judgmental, but again, short but sweet. And smile. This is a tricky situation if they’re very drunk. But again, short and sweet. I’d almost rather say, short and respectful. They’re in pain inside. Just give them the blanket, and let it do its job. You did yours.
10. I can’t stress enough: short, sweet, respectful. You’re coming into their area, their bubble. Bringing them comfort with the blanket is the main goal.
Message us if you have any other questions or concerns.
Let’s do this! One blanket at a time!
Kneading Sweets Bakery
- 115 E. Rich Ave., DeLand
- 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday
The Anointed Olive
- 118 N. Woodland Blvd., DeLand
- 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mon. – Fri.
- 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sat.
Stetson Baptist Church
- 1025 W. Minnesota Ave., DeLand
- 386-734-1991 (call for hours)
Barberville Pioneer Settlement
- 1776 Lightfoot Lane, Barberville
- 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Thursday-Sunday
The Anointed Olive
- 203 E. Granada Blvd., Suite 203, Ormond Beach
- 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mon. – Fri.
- 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sat.
- 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sun.
Kneading More Sweets Bakery
- 175 South Nova Road, Suite 7, Ormond Beach
- 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mon – Fri
- 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sat
Tomoka Christian Church
- 1450 Hand Ave., Ormond Beach
- Drop-off times:
- 6:30 p.m. Saturday
- 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Sunday
- 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
- **Iglesia Hispana de Tomoka:
- 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the Chapel
- 7 p.m. Thursday in the Chapel
A Second Blessing Thrift Store
- 785 S. Nova Road, Ormond Beach
- 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday-Saturday
- Closed Sunday
First United Methodist Church
- 405 Dunlawton Ave.
- 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday
- or in the Sanctuary Sundays (when the church meets in person; they’re currently online only for worship).