"Everyone knew him as Big Tom.
I grew up watching my Dad feed people."
As a truck driver for most of his life, Tammy's father drove all over California, witnessing countless homeless souls with signs pleading for help, letting their fellow humans know they were hungry. Big Tom invited those he witnessed struggling to sit down to a meal with him. "He always had his New Testament with him. He believed we all should try to be more like Jesus Christ." Tammy recalls always following the example her father set without a second thought. During her first Summer job at fourteen in Norwalk, CA, she would take the leftover donuts from the Winchell's where she worked to any homeless people she could.
Tammy is the founder of Tom's Palms ((at)tomspalms), lovingly named in honor of her father, here in the Valley. Every week, she, along with a close community of friends, & an ever-growing community of supporters, gather car loads of donated clothing, food, & personal items to take to the likewise growing homeless community, primarily centered near downtown Phoenix.
The initial iteration of what would become Tom's Palms began approximately 5 years ago between 3 friends here in the Valley. Tammy was beginning to recover her physical health &, with that, a significantly increased desire & ability to care for others. "I went through a period in my life when I was so tired of taking care of other people." For nearly 20 years prior, Tammy had been confined to a wheelchair. A series of 3 left ankle fractures within a one-year period in the early 90s cascaded into chronic progressive leg pain & swelling. "It is hard to explain the pain. It was like a hot coal inside of my foot 24/7." She was finally diagnosed with RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy), a form of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a pain disorder characterized by a dysregulation of one's flight-or-fight nervous system typically following an injury (or surgery), & typically spreading to other areas of the body. There is no known cure. "The (medically-recognized) treatments (were) horrendous." At its peak, her daily prescription pain medication list included Percoset tens 6 x day, 350 mg of Soma 3 x day, & 3200 mg of Gabapentin. Tammy underwent surgical implantation of 2 spinal cord stimulators with 2 subsequent revisions. Initially limited to her left leg, the surgeries aimed at treating the symptoms of her RSD triggered its spread throughout her body. "Before I knew it, it was everywhere."
Two decades following its onset, Tammy's pain began to lift. In 2013, her spinal cord stimulator was finally removed, resulting in significant pain relief. She was also introduced to CBD. CBD (cannabidiol) is the predominant non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, & an essential component of medical marijuana. For Tammy, CBD has proved itself essential in further reducing & effectively managing her RSD without the harmful side effects of all her prior pain medications.
Over the course of months, Tammy was able to wean off her prescribed pain medications & transition out of her wheelchair entirely. She became increasingly active in the Valley's cannabis community. It has noticeably become her second family. The healing Tammy had experienced personally, she, along with friends she met through the cannabis community, decided to extend to those experiencing homelessness. For their first event, they set up a folding table at a public park where many homeless people lived, & handed out donated homemade spaghetti dinners, salads, cookies, water, & clothes. As Tammy & her friends were cleaning up, a Phoenix police officer pulled up & threatened to ticket & even arrest them because they did have the proper permit or license. One of her friends who owned a nearby medical marijuana delivery company immediately offered to let Tammy continue her outreach out of his business parking lot, a lot he shared with a church. "The church wasn't too thrilled with it at first, but when they saw what we were doing, they were okay with it."
They were by no means the only ones. Tammy & her friends began what would become Tom's Palms going out every 60 days. Now Tammy & her friends go out 1 to 2 times per week. Tammy now receives so many donations that Nature's Medicine, a local dispensary, reserves one of its own large storage pods exclusively for Tom's Palms donations. All items personally handed out by Tammy & her friends to those in need are donated by countless individuals & numerous businesses within the Valley's cannabis community. Other regular supporters of Toms Palms include Nirvana Center, Jefros Botanicals, Mary Jane SmokeWear, Dizpot, Cheba Hut, & Triple J's BBQ. It is Tammy's experience that the more people she tells about what she is doing, the more people help. "Most people want to help. They just don't know how."
Despite the growing community surrounding Tom's Palms (& the work of countless other homeless outreach programs), Tom's Palms is fighting a losing battle. Homelessness in Phoenix has skyrocketed by nearly 40% since 2017. As of January 2020, there were over 7400 people experiencing homelessness in the Valley. This statistic was very likely a significant undercount according to experts then. It is certainly a massive undercount now as a result of the Covid Nineteen pandemic & a concomitant severe economic recession. Metro Phoenix currently only has one thousand two hundred emergency shelter beds.
"One day I would love to feed everyone & not have to walk away & see others waiting to be fed." That's Tammy's dream.
"Why can't we take care of everyone? I challenge (any)one else to do what I am doing."
Every homeless person is "somebody's somebody."
"What would you do if it was your somebody?"