Published: December 19, 2012
"Everyone knows Santa," Ratkov says, with quiet pride.
From there it's visits to one sad stop after another.
To an apartment building on East Vernor to see a woman named Anna, who's in a wheelchair and stays with Lucky and Shawn and Robert and Tina. Five lunches.
To an old house on Coplin, to give meals to Coco and her four children. Five lunches.
To a home on Dickerson, the one with boarded-up houses around it, where there's a woman whose name Ratkov doesn't even know but who's raising several grandchildren by herself. Four lunches.
To a woman living in the well-kept little house on Algonquin, the one with Christmas decorations up in quiet defiance of the blight on her street. One lunch.
To the wooden fence along an empty field, where several men come out of nowhere and walk up to the van. They're all hungry, and they've all been waiting for Ratkov. Each gets a lunch or two. "I love you. I love you. Sir!" one says, a little aggressively, enough to draw a corrective word from Johnson. But another of the men is humble and sincerely thankful. "Santa, you're a lifesaver. I ain't B.S.ing."
To the McDonald's on Conner at Warren, where a mentally disabled man they call "Mr. Q" sits alone. He leaps up and comes outside when he sees Santa driving up. "He's a good guy," Ratkov says. "He volunteers at the soup kitchen." One lunch.
To the car-strewn lot of a grimy tire repair shop on Conner, where a bay door swings open to reveal three grease-coated men peering out from the darkness within. "Bless you Santa," says a man with a forlorn look on his face. "I need them blessings," Ratkov says. Three lunches.
And then to the rest of his day, when he'll take several other people to a church in the suburbs, where they can get a warm dinner and a warm shower, both for free, both small things most people take for granted, but both really big things to those who don't usually have either. Things they wouldn't have if it weren't for this shaggy Santa in the battered van.
"He's the type of guy, he just helps everybody," Johnson says. "He never says no. You can get a cigarette, you can get anything you want from Santa Claus. He's just a blessing, man. He's a blessing to a lot of people. A lot of people wouldn't have nothing to eat today if it wasn't for him."
Detroitblogger John scours the city of Detroit for Metro Times. Send comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
> Email Detroitblogger John