HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - When Bill walks out of the woods, he tears up.
"I know what it's like," he said as he left one of the tent camps in south Hattiesburg. "I know what those two we just left are feeling."
"New York Bill," as he was referred to during his four years of homelessness, is now a volunteer at the Field House for the Homeless in Hattiesburg. The organization served Thanksgiving lunch to around 100 people Thursday, both at its building and in the tent camps. People of all ages and races and from all walks of life feasted on the hot meal given to them by volunteer servers.
Like Bill, Tracie also knows how these people feel on a holiday without a home.
Tracie was homeless from age eight until 12 in New Orleans, along with her brother and mother. Although she did not understand their situation when she was younger, she came to understand that living in a tent or hopping around to abandoned homes was not how her classmates lived.
"As you got older, you kind of realized, it became a problem when I couldn't get into school or when I started taking it out on everybody else because I thought it was everybody's fault," Tracie said.
Tracie handed out about 50 book bags to those at the Field House Thursday, which was a project she worked on with her boyfriend and his mother. Although Tracie is far removed from homelessness now, as a senior scholar on The University of Southern Mississippi track team, she has used that experience to help others.
"I still have the teddy bear that I had when I was homeless, so I feel like it's important to give to someone," she said. "It's something of their own. It's their book bag."
While serving others on this Thanksgiving, Tracie and Bill both give thanks for the life they now lead and the ability to give to those once like them.
"There definitely is a lot to be thankful for, but one of the biggest things I'm thankful for is putting the smiles on people's faces," Tracie said.