He's the guy handing out free holiday turkeys in the Metropolitan Ministries tent. As the organization's director of property management, it's part of Angelo Fluker's job. The 51-year-old also keeps the holiday inventory of food and Christmas toys. ¶ In the tent on Florida Avenue recently, he watched as those in need chose from cans of corn, fruit or green beans and their choice of breads. Parents soon will pick among donated Christmas toys for their children. ¶ Letting them "shop" for themselves promotes dignity and self-sufficiency, said Fluker, who lives in Brandon. ¶ He should know. Fluker first came to Metropolitan Ministries for his own share of free meals and showers. As an employee for the past 10 years, he's helping others. ¶ He was recently recognized by the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County as a 2011 Homeless Hero. ¶ Fluker sat down with St. Petersburg Times staff writer Elisabeth Parker recently to share his story, as well as a few cooking tips.
What do you see in the people who come here for help?
I can see the tell-tale signs. I've been there. I was lucky enough to get out of it. Sometimes people just need someone to listen.
How did you end up homeless?
I chose to live like that. Living on the streets, I could keep all the money I earned at a labor pool for my crack cocaine.
I was making $32 every day. I called it "a 20 and a dime" (different sizes of crack rocks) and a pack of cigarettes. I would vomit or have diarrhea just anticipating getting high. I woke up to get high.
I was staying in an abandoned house on Fourth Street in Ybor City. I would sleep among the trash, and when something would crawl over me, I'd get up and go to the next room, till I'd end up on the back porch. I never did figure out what it was. One day, I was walking down the street and saw my house had burned down. I started cussing. But that wasn't my house. I had a house. I had a family. But I chose to segregate myself from them.
What's your family like?
I came from a well-off Tampa family. The problem was not with my family. It was with me. I made the mistake of getting high. Thinking I could handle it.
My brothers, sister and mom were all behind me but they didn't enable me. I chose to use. At the same time, you make your family like they're using drugs. I would call them and tell them I needed money; they knew why. When I told them I needed shoes or clothes, they had to wear the shoes first and make a defect on the clothes so I wouldn't sell them to buy crack.
When did you hit rock bottom?
I was on my way to my daughter's house to give her some money for her 10th birthday. Around the corner, I stopped and got me a quart of beer. From that, I bought a rock and I never made it to her house.
I done that two days. That was it. I hit rock bottom. I smoked up her birthday money. I had thought I was a functioning addict. I always kept a job. I thought no one knew.
How did you get help?
Metropolitan was one of the places I could come and take a bath and get something to eat. They didn't question me. I went through their program. Metropolitan Ministries is one of the reasons I'm here today. They allowed me to start over. They gave me a chance.
What surprises you about the people you work with?
They come from all walks of life. Homeless people are people, just like me and you.
My grandmother used to say, "Treat people like you want to be treated." Never put down a person till you've walked in their shoes. I don't care if they're dirty or clean. We all just want to be heard.
You worked in the kitchen here first, right?
Yes. I'm a fantastic cook. I deep fry my turkey. Inject with whatever flavor you really like. Use a dry rub and baste it. I got my own blend of seasonings. I'm going to bake a ham for Christmas. One of the secrets to anything you cook — if you want it to melt in your mouth, if you want to savor the flavor — marinate it for about three days.
There's several ingredients.
Well, I got to be honest, it's a secret.
Do you tell the people you give the turkeys to?
I tell them some of the ingredients.
I'll tell you orange juice, brown sugar, cloves — push them into the ham. Marinate to soak into the bone. It's so good, I joke that you'd eat your fingers thinking it's one of the bones.
And if you've got citrus trees, you can use them to barbecue. Cut the branches up, use them in a fire.
This is good stuff.
Yea, it's really good.
Who helps you eat your holiday spread?
My brothers, sisters, cousins. We're a close family today.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.