GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It was an outpouring of love for the homeless at VFW Post 2539 in Gulfport on Sunday. The first annual Russell Bangs Memorial Collection for Campers was held in honor of Bangs, a homeless man found dead in Gulfport on New Year's Day.
Friends and family of Bangs, as well as homeless advocates in the community, hosted the event in hopes that they could help someone in the same position Bangs was in.
Valerie Caylor knew and loved Russell Bangs. Even though he was homeless when he died, she says it wasn't always that way for him.
"Anytime we had something like this, Russell would be the one in the back making sure everybody else had a plate first. Russell would be the one to make sure everybody else got a sleeping bag before he would go get one," said Caylor.
When Caylor heard about Bangs' passing, she knew something had to be done, because the homeless community is too often overlooked.
"We always see a homeless person has died, and we shake our heads and say, 'Oh, that's a shame,' and we'll say a prayer for them. Then, we forget about it and we go on. No, I can't forget about this one. He was a friend. I've known him for over 20 years," said Caylor.
She began organizing the event just days after Bangs' death. Clothes, food, sleeping bags, toiletries and much more were all donated for the event to help the campers who stopped by.
"All these homeless people here have a name, and they once were our coworkers, our classmates, our neighbors, our friends, but for whatever reason their life has spiraled out of control," said Caylor.
Those who knew Bangs admit he dealt with drug and alcohol abuse, but still they agree, he was a good man with a big heart.
"He would love this. If it were in someone else's honor, he would be the king of this. He would be rallying for everybody to do the same thing, but it just so happened he didn't live to see this through," said Melissa Beham, who is Bangs' sister.
Caylor and Bangs' family hope to make this an annual event. Some of the food donors included Sicily's Italian Buffet, Golden Corral, Domino's pizza and Krispy Kreme.