A new home for Sam

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Home for Sam Benjamin is an abandoned, late ’70s model Ford Torino. At least that’s where he sleeps.

With the weather turning cool Velma Tolbert worries about Sam, worries that he might be cold at night.

She worries, too, about the rest of us, about whether we may have somehow lost something important along the way.

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For about a year now, Tolbert has been behind a volunteer effort to build more suitable living quarters for Sam. Nothing fancy, just a plain concrete block building perhaps 15-foot square.

The concrete floor has been poured and the walls are about half completed. It lacks only a few more blocks and a roof and Sam will be able to say good-bye to sleeping in the back seat. For good.

Tolbert first became aware of Sam’s plight when her son, Prince Tolbert, came home from work one day and told her, &uot;Mom, we need to do something for Sam.&uot;

The car is parked on the lot that Sam’s parents once called home. The house burned down some years ago, but Sam still lives there. His bed is the back seat of that abandoned car. His kitchen is a small cleared space in the middle of the lot.

That’s where he builds small fires to cook on and sometimes just to keep warm.

Sam keeps to himself mostly. To those who notice him at all, he’s just part of the background. Someone who seemingly has always been there, someone who hardly merits a second glance.

Almost no one stops to inquire about his welfare.

And that worries Tolbert. She fears that in the press of everyday life we’ve lost a little of our humanity. &uot;It’s sad,&uot; she says, &uot;that people can drive by and not feel nothing. But this shouldn’t be.&uot;

She gestures with her arm to indicate the abandoned car, the campfire built to ward off the morning’s chill, the lean-to where Sam keeps his meager possessions. The boundaries of a life lived on the edge.

Prince Tolbert was killed in May 2001 after being shot outside a local nightclub. The first trial of his accused killer ended in a mistrial. A second trial ended in a conviction earlier this year.

Velma Tolbert somehow found the strength to endure those two trials. Now, in Sam, she has found a new purpose, a new outlet for her energies. After the heartbreak of her son’s death, she has started to live again.

She is not alone. Perhaps prompted by her example, others in the neighborhood have stepped up to help, too.

It’s been slow going, but the end is in sight now. A roof, a stove, a refrigerator … and Sam Benjamin will have a decent place to live. Velma Tolbert thinks that should matter to all of us.

And she wants to thank Sam for helping to reawaken a little bit of her own humanity.

Tolbert and the other volunteers hope to have the roof on before it gets much colder, but they still lack some of the necessary building materials. They’re hoping some good-hearted people will want to help. &uot;I don’t know anything about the 2-by-4s or the 5-by-8s or whatever they are,&uot; Tolbert says. &uot;But maybe they could help.&uot;

SouthTrust Bank has an account in Sam Benjamin’s name. King Hardware and Fuller Hardware stores have accounts, too.