Tom Willette, a homeless man staying at House of Charity, got a big gift for New Year’s.
Willette, who is recovering from cancer at the downtown Spokane shelter, had a front-row seat at the Gonzaga-Oklahoma basketball game in the Spokane Arena on Thursday night.
“It makes me feel pretty good they thought enough of me to ask me,” he said before the game. “I was pretty surprised.”
His seat came courtesy of Spokane resident Pat West, who helped organize Thursday’s annual game that doubles as a fundraiser for Ronald McDonald Charities of Spokane.
Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities, said he wanted to treat one of the shelter’s clients in the religious spirit of “the last shall be served first.”
McCann attended with Willette.
Another 20 seats were made available to women and children from St. Margaret’s Shelter, which, like the House of Charity, is operated by Catholic Charities, McCann said.
Willette said he has been volunteering to work at House of Charity as he recovers from cancer surgery.
About six months ago, Willette was traveling from his former home in Emmett, Idaho, through Spokane hoping to land a fishing job in Alaska, but his car broke down, he said.
He didn’t have enough money to repair the vehicle and ended up at the House of Charity. While there, he was diagnosed with melanoma on his back and underwent surgery in Spokane. He now receives state public assistance, he said.
Willette said managers at House of Charity have allowed him to recover in the shelter’s overnight sleeping area, and he is grateful for that.
“I told them if they needed any help, I’d help out,” he said. “I’m just getting well enough now to get back on my feet.”
He said he plans to look for work in Spokane. If that doesn’t work, he’ll try to get a job on a fishing boat in Alaska, where he has worked in the past.