A Giving Heart: Charise Leon is our January Hometown Hero
It’s the morning after Thanksgiving, but you won’t find Charise Leon doing any Black Friday shopping. Instead, this longtime Ocala resident is on the highway headed for Panama City, driving a truck loaded with supplies for hurricane victims.
It’s her second trip to the Panhandle since Hurricane Michael devastated the area. Charise personally gathered donations from friends across the state, everything from roofing supplies to shoes and food. Now she’s spending the long holiday weekend delivering those items to families in need.
“I’m a very firm believer that ‘it takes a village.’ When I saw the photos of everything wiped out, I knew I needed to help,” says Charise.
Helping is second nature to Charise, whose day job is working as a case manager with developmentally disabled individuals through a state agency. But her drive to care for others doesn’t end when she clocks out.
For over 20 years, she’s volunteered at St. Francis House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Gainesville. Far beyond just serving meals there on holidays, she purchases blankets, toys and personal toiletry items throughout the year and donates them to the shelter. She also “adopts” a local family every year and provides Christmas dinner and gifts.
She regularly hands out “blessing bags” containing necessities such as socks, toothpaste, soap, etc. to the homeless, buying the supplies with her own money and including donations from friends.
“I might not be able to solve all of someone’s problems, but I can help them with something,” she notes. “Whenever I give to someone, I always tell them to pay it forward.”
Skeptics ask if she’s concerned about being scammed by someone who isn’t really homeless. Charise isn’t worried about that.
“As long as I feel I did the right thing by giving, I leave it in God’s hand to sort out,” she says simply.
She traces her heart for helping others back to childhood when she was given the chance to serve the homeless through the Catholic school she attended. It made a powerful and lasting impression, explains Charise, who becomes emotional as she remembers those early experiences.
Extremely well organized with a talent for “working smart,” Charise admits she’s not embarrassed to ask friends, family, local businesses and neighbors for donations. She finds that people want to help; they just need the opportunity. She urges everyone to do what they can to make a difference.
“Step outside of your own box and really take a look around you,” says Charise. “It’s so easy to walk away from people, but there’s always someone in need.”
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