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Ronnie's story: A little love goes a long way

Posted at 6:16 PM, Nov 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 13:42:30-05

UPDATE: Ronnie had a stroke at the beginning of December and lost a lot of mobility on his right side but he's doing okay, recovering at a care center in Canton and going through physical therapy. Meanwhile, Colleen and Jilleien, who raised over $12,000 to help him, have put together a committee to find a permanent housing option for him. They are continuing to raise money to get him an apartment because they refuse to put him back out on the streets when he's done recovering.

You can donate here.

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Something as simple as a new suit means so much to Ronnie Johnson.

"I am so happy I don't know what to do," Johnson said.

To Ronnie, it's love and hope, some of the highest highs during his lowest of lows.

"It's been a while since I have a nice, fitted one," Johnson said. "I never thought anything like this would ever come my way."

Ronnie was born blind. He worked hard all his life, never letting it get in the way. 

"I used to be a building engineer," Johnson said. "I can fix anything in the house, from the roof to the basement. Heating, plumbing, air conditioning, boilers in big buildings."

That's how he met his wife Barbara.

"We began to go out and date and we got married in '95," Johnson said.

But this last decade, he has found himself on the streets, waiting 3 years for public housing. That's how he met Colleen Rippey and Jilleien Franquelli. With their nonprofit Simple Sacrifice they deliver over 100 bagged lunches to Baltimore's homeless every Sunday. Ronnie became a regular.

"A couple times, I needed an umbrella, they helped me out with an umbrella. They are very nice people," Johnson said. 

"He travels an hour to see us. He's such a bright spot," Franquelli said. 

But on Sunday, they knew something was wrong. After giving out the lunches, he told them Barbara has passed away.

"We knew that his wife had been sick. We thought maybe it would be longer," Franquelli said.

"We just all embraced him. Everyone was crying," Rippey said.

"That meant a lot to me because they let me know that they cared," Johnson said.

Colleen and Jilleien knew they had to do something. They put a call out on Facebook for donations and it took off.

"It clearly touched people just like he touched us," Rippey said. 

So far, they have raised around $10,000 and that doesn't include all the donated services: a week's stay at a hotel, grooming services and a new suit. Sharp Dressed Man founder Christopher Schafer invited them in for a fitting. 

"It is so heartwarming to see someone who thought the world has forgotten about him. Whose family has forgotten about him. We’ve had strangers that are so touched by his story and for me, it’s so overwhelming. For us, it’s so overwhelming. Even for Ronnie, it’s overwhelming," Franquelli said.

Ronnie hopes his story shows a little love goes a long way.

"We travel around the city and it seems like nobody cares, even your families at times, and these ladies, they come and they share the time with us and let us know that they love and they care about us," Johnson said.

After they get him some new shoes and help with his wife's service, Jilleien and Colleen want to use the money to find him permanent housing.

"He is a very hardworking man and he worked very to live a dream he had and we want to make that possible for him," Franquelli said.

As for Ronnie, he is very grateful, and has big plans for his new suit.

"I go out and I pray for a lot of people on the streets so, other than the funeral, it’s going to be well used," Johnson said.