Homeless are special guests at this Gardens hotel for the holidays

5:25 p.m Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 Local
Liz Oliver, general manager of the Homewood Suites by Hilton, remembers a woman’s reaction about three years when Oliver gave the women instructions and pushed open the door to one of the suites where the wardrobes were arrayed. ‘She gasped, and then she said, “Is this for us? People care?”’ Oliver said. ‘It’s amazing.’

Twelve women with no place to call home for the holidays will experience a day of luxury and empowerment at an upscale hotel next week.

Homewood Suites by Hilton has worked with the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County for the past five years to host women from a group home for a day. The special treatment includes a makeshift shopping spree and a makeover from a hairdresser and makeup artist, said Liz Oliver, general manager of the Palm Beach Gardens hotel.

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The hotel also treats the women to a three-course dinner — the menu includes the traditional ham and sweet potatoes — and entertainment, before they go back to their group home in the evening.

The hotel opens up two oversized suites and fills them with clothes, shoes, purses and jewelry the women can pick out, wear to dinner in the dining room and take home with them.

For the first time, a life coach and financial advisor will spend an hour with the women, teaching life skills, such as how to budget and how to dress for an interview, Oliver said.

RELATED: How did Palm Beach Gardens woman go from homeless to home store owner?

One woman’s reaction about three years ago is seared into Oliver’s memory. Oliver gave the women instructions and pushed open the door to one of the suites where the wardrobes were arrayed.

“She gasped, and then she said, ‘Is this for us? People care?’” Oliver said. “It’s amazing.”

Now, the women look forward to it every year. Many of them take items with them to share with their friends, Oliver said. They range in age from 18 to their early 60s, she said.

It was heart-warming to see the women think about other people in their own need, said Laraine Sacco, a volunteer who helps Oliver with the event. They’re humbled by the generosity of people who want to help them, she said.

“A lot of them felt very forgotten. You could see a turning in them throughout the day,” said Sacco, who has helped spread the word and collect donations for the past few years. “They felt important again. They felt that they mattered and that they were somebody. It was a gift to me.”

Some of the women like to dress up, and others feel more comfortable in casual wear, so clothes of all types are needed, Sacco said.

The outreach event started when Oliver sat down in her office one day and decided the hotel staff should do something nice for the community for the holidays. They made Thanksgiving pies for homeless people about eight years ago, before Oliver organized the empowerment day for women and a Super Bowl party for men.

In February, the hotel staff will transform a meeting room into a living room with couches and a big screen TV. The chef barbecues in a courtyard next to the room, where the men can munch on popcorn, hot dogs and hamburgers.

“They get that feeling of tailgating,” Oliver said.

At the end of the night, they go home with the men’s clothes the hotel collected.

The hotel needs donations of new or gently-used clothing for men and women, shoes, jewelry, make-up and self-help literature. The items are due at Homewood Suites by Dec. 12. Oliver can also send a hotel car to pick up donations.

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