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Vickroy: Chicago Heights hair stylist feeds the hungry on Christmas

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What: Caring and Sharing Christmas Day Celebration. Free holiday dinner for south suburban homeless and working poor

When: noon to 3 p.m. Christmas Day

Where: Greater Faith Church, 1417 Emerald Ave., Chicago Heights; (708) 248-5226; http://www.greaterfaithbaptistchurch.org/

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Updated: January 25, 2014 6:08AM



“When you lend to the poor,
you lend to God.”

It’s that sentiment that drives Selena Maynie to stay up all night Christmas Eve, cooking meals that she will give away on Christmas Day.

Maynie, who lives in Crete and owns Cafe O’Hair in Chicago Heights, has been providing hot meals to the homeless and working poor on Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past seven years.

“Years ago, I put it in my heart to feed the homeless and so that’s what I do,” Maynie said. “I would like to do it all year long. I would feed people out of my salon if I could.”

Tonight, after putting in 12 to 14 hours at her shop, making sure every customer is beautified for the holiday, Maynie will head home to start roasting turkeys, cooking hams and mixing macaroni and cheese.

“I give people the food I would want to eat,” she said. “I treat the poor the way I would want to be treated.”

Maynie pays for the meals out of her pocket. She enlists the help of her husband, Rod Polk, and their three kids, Gary, Angelik and Marrell, in cooking, packaging and delivering the food. Several friends contribute side dishes.

“There’s no Santa at our house,” she said. “We feed the poor, and then we come home and prepare our dinner.”

In addition to giving out food, Maynie, 41, takes time to get to know as many of the hundreds who annually partake of her labors. “They’re people; they have stories. And they can tell if you’re there for them or for yourself,” she said.

Maynie’s story — or at least the current chapter — began 14 years ago when she was diagnosed with coreocarcinoma, a rare form of uterine cancer.

She’d just given birth to a stillborn son and knew something else was wrong. Even though her doctor dismissed her postpartum complaints as depression, Maynie pressed and, sure enough, cancer was diagnosed.

“I had a full hysterectomy at 25,” she said.

She also endured daily chemotherapy treatments for eight months.

“When I finished, I put it in my heart to start helping others,” she said.

Inspired by the outreach work of her pastor, the Rev. Reginald O’Dell, she decided to take to the streets, handing out hot Christmas dinners at 22nd and State streets in Chicago to anyone who needed one.

“I fed 158 men in 15 minutes that first time,” she said.

O’Dell, associate pastor at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago’s Roseland community, has worked beside the Rev. Michael Pfleger and the Rev. George Clements on outreach projects that have included feeding the hungry.

“I told Selena that feeding the poor was something the Lord had led me to do,” he said.

He also told her that sometimes you have to be the gift to others and not just to yourself.

Maynie, who was overcome with gratitude over her recovery, decided to follow in his footsteps.

For a few years, she handed out meals along State and Canal streets in Chicago from the back of her 1999 Chrysler LHS. But then, realizing the growing number of homeless and working poor in and around the community where she works, she decided to bring the program closer to home.

O’Dell said it’s hard to know exactly how many people are in need in the south suburbs, given that so many are employed at low wages. But the desperation is growing, he said.

“I believe we’re looking at 3,000 homeless people just in this area alone,” he said. “Plus, thousands more who are working poor.”

In a country that’s among the richest in the world, he said, “this is unacceptable.”

Three years ago, Maynie linked up with the Rev. Walter Mosby of Greater Faith Church in Chicago Heights. Mosby, who feeds the homeless and poor every Monday at the church, offered Maynie space to set up shop on Thanksgiving. This will be their first time collaborating on Christmas. Dinner will be served from noon to 3 p.m.

Maynie still plans to do all the cooking in her family’s kitchen in Crete, but now the recipients will have a place to sit down and enjoy the meal.

“Now it’s a celebration,” she said.

This year, Maynie is also getting help from Chicago Heights Ald. Wanda Rodgers, who is getting donations of toys, caps, scarves and toiletries, as well as food, from local businesses.

Rodgers said that in addition to feeding the homeless, Maynie will be lifting the spirits of those people who have jobs but still can’t swing Christmas.

“It’s important for businesses to give back to the communities that support them,” Maynie said.

The Bowen High School graduate once dreamed of becoming a nurse, but things didn’t work out that way, she said. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago was rough, but she managed to get herself into college, taking classes at both Olive Harvey and South Suburban community colleges.

“But I was already married with two kids,” she said. “I needed to work, to set a good example, so I switched to beauty school.”

Today, business is booming. On a recent Thursday morning, clients sat in a holding pattern waiting for Maynie’s attention.

“I’ve been coming here for 10 years,” Shawana Heidelberg, of Park Forest, said. “Selena’s amazing and consistent. She personalizes everything. Plus, she gives back. She’s always helping someone.”

Maynie’s clients ranged in age this day from Adia Dew, a 15-year-old high school student from Matteson, to 75-year-old Chris Barker, of Homewood, who stopped in even though she recently twisted her ankle.

“I think she’s wonderful,” stylist Tracy Taylor said.

“She’s very good,” agreed Dorothy Gilbert, of Park Forest.

“I am good,” Maynie said, flashing a smile. “And that’s because I love what I do. That’s the difference, that’s the secret.”

She’s also good at helping the less fortunate.

One day, she said, “I will feed a thousand people, and not just on Christmas. This is not about food. It’s about looking at a person who needs something and being able to give it to them.”

And if you don’t think the people who line up for a plate are truly hungry, consider this, she said: “One year a man filled his plate and while he was walking toward a table, he dropped it. Do you know, he just bent down, picked it all up off the floor and ate it anyway?”



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