Ailing Homeless Pizza Maker Featured as a NY Times Neediest Case

Posted on November 26, 2018 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Mr. Wicklin Tries on New Coat

“It’s all in the wrist,” Johnnie Wicklin tells New York Times Neediest Cases reporter Remy Tumin, mimicking a pizza toss.

For 35 years, Mr. Wicklin threw a couple of hundred pies a day at various pizza shops across the city, spending many of those years at Ray’s Pizza locations. Starting as a teenager, he worked his way up from delivering pizzas to making them, perfecting his technique.

But it’s been more than five years since he made a pie or served a slice.

Three heart attacks, one stroke and a condition known as frozen shoulder in both arms forced him to give up working. He is still suffering from heart disease. At the same time, his marriage broke up and he found himself homeless.

“I lost everything,” Mr. Wicklin, 59, said in an interview last month.

In frail health, he moved from shelter to shelter and borough to borough. 

Sometimes during this five-year, 2013- 2018 odyssey,  he was placed in dormitories shared by 16 to 20 men; other times he had a room of his own.  He was attacked twice, he said, and people frequently stole his belongings from his lockers.  His biggest fear, however, was of getting tuberculosis because so many people were coughing around him. 

“I was more afraid of getting sick than getting robbed,” he said.

Meanwhile, his health continued to deteriorate.  He had three heart attacks earlier this year. 

“In the shelter I’d say to myself ‘I lost everything.’”

Finally, with assistance from shelter case managers, he moved into his own affordable Section 8 apartment on July 1, 2018.  But his new apartment came empty.  Completely empty.

Catholic Charities NY staff met Mr. Wickli when he knocked on our door asking for help getting a bed.  Since he also had no place to sit, Catholic Charities drew on $495 in New York Times Neediest Cases funds to buy him a new blue sofa bed.  Catholic Charities staff also provide Mr. Wickli with a new winter coat because he had none, a full turkey and all the trimmings because he had no Thanksgiving meal and, in short, ongoing case management services so he knows he is no longer alone.

As for other furnishings, Mr. Wickli befriended a local porter on Second Ave. who calls him when he spots valuable trash in the Tuesday collection.  With a borrowed dolly, Mr. Wickli brought home mix-and-match night tables, a small, soiled ottoman he covers with a towel, 2 used pots, 2 mix-and-match kitchen chairs and a kitchen table with three legs that he balances against a wall.

Read Mr. Wicklin’s full Neediest Cases profile in The New York Times.

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