As Bonnie Fowlow-King and her husband, Grant King, walked through the impoverished alleys of the Dominican Republic, there was only one way to describe how she felt, she says.
Little did she know during her first experience in the southern slums just how much joy those ghettos and the people in them would bring her.
Eight years ago Fowlow-King, who works with First Choice Haircutters, won a contest at work that landed her and her husband a trip to the Dominican Republic. It would be their first time ever on a plane.
“We really didn’t want to leave the resort, but we did,” says Fowlow-King.
“We went out on an excursion and whatnot, and could see the poverty.”
They gave out some of the things they brought with them — items that people living in this part of the world take for granted, such as cans of pop and crayons and pencils for the children. Over the past eight years they’ve gone to other places down south, but they’ve fallen in love with bringing things to the Dominican people.
“We’ve done Mexico and all of that, too, but Dominican people ... they open up their doors to you. They are just so welcoming. They’re not pushy or anything like that. They just want to make friends,” she says.
In April of last year they met a cab driver who took them to the local ghetto.
“We seen children with no shoes. ... One little fella had no clothes on and he was frightened to death of us,” says Fowlow-King.
“We shared out everything that we had and we couldn’t wait to do it again.”
The couple is well known now when they go down to the Dominican.
“Even the police know us. They wave their hands and say ‘Hi Bonnie. Hi Grant.’
“We met this older man down there and he reminded me right like my dad and we just had to keep going back.”
The man — Manuel Gonzalez — was homeless and lived on the beach when the couple first met him. He now lives in a deserted hotel. His friendship would come to mean even more to Fowlow-King. Last June a fire destroyed their garage and two sides of their home.
“My dad died seven days later. I was sad beyond. I didn’t think there was any coming back and I said, ‘That’s it. I’ve got to pay it forward.’”
Fowlow-King and her husband took on collecting things for the local people with a whole new gusto.
“We had everything (packed) to the max.”
The couple also reached out through Facebook. Fowlow-King says a Portugal Cove woman who had lost a son to a drunk driver was extremely giving.
“It done her a world of good just to donate. She filled a suitcase, and I mean filled it.”
The locals were expecting them.
“When we made the turn we heard all the little children clapping,” she says.
“They’re so sweet. The little dolls. Every one of them came over and hugged us and kissed us.”
Later, the couple wandered into an area by themselves, again with bags of donations for the people. They went back there every day for six days.
“There’s a little boy four years old. He’s trying to teach me Spanish and I’m teaching him English,” says Fowlow-King.
The couple is going again in April. Her basement is already full of hand-me-downs. They’re trying to collect baseball gloves for the children.
“These kids don’t have baseball gloves, and that’s their main sport,” she says.
Their first time on a plane never so much took them somewhere strange as somewhere familiar.
“The Dominican is home. If I won a lotto, that’s where we’d be.”
Anybody who wishes to donate a baseball glove can drop it off at any First Choice Haircutters location.