JANESVILLE — People like to talk to Tom Hathaway.
And sometimes they choose to confide to him their deepest struggles.
When Hathaway, of Janesville, started delivering mail in 2000, he said he was shocked by how many people he saw living in their cars.
He recalled meeting one woman who said her longtime boyfriend left her and her son, leaving her nowhere to stay. Fortunately, Hathaway said he had become more embedded in community resources for homelessness, so he connected the woman with House of Mercy.
“People don’t realize in Janesville the issues there are,” he said. “I was shocked.”
Hathaway, known as “The Awesome Mailman,” has for years been collecting money and goods for the homeless. Earlier this month was his fifth annual “Helping the Homeless” event but the first of its kind held outside of his backyard.
The event was held in the Blackhawk Building on the Rock County Fairgrounds.
Hathaway’s nickname was written across the back of his shirt, made special for the event. It’s the first year event volunteers have made shirts, he said.
The bands that played are Pivot, The Time Travelers and Dem Horny Funkers, which is a band Hathaway’s daughter is a part of, he said. None of the bands charged for performing, and they also performed in Hathaway’s backyard last year.
Hathaway has a lot of neighbors. He considers everyone on his mail route — he said he makes about 500 deliveries — a neighbor. He has been on this route for the past 10 years.
The recent event raised money for various local nonprofits including GIFTSMens Shelter, HealthNet of Rock County, Project 16:49, ECHO, House of Mercy and the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin.
On the way into the Blackhawk Center, the humane society had a table outside with an adoptable dog that garnered a lot of attendee interest. When Becky Masotti walked by the table, she said she chose to put the money she had in the humane society’s bucket.
“It was either that or the dog’s coming home with me,” she said.
Masotti said she found a sign that said “Chews Kindness” in the recycling. So she took it home, washed it and set it outside the Blackhawk Building, coincidentally right next to the dog’s area.
Masotti, who grew up in Milton and now lives in Janesville, was a volunteer.
She knew Hathaway from when they both worked at The Stagecoach on old Highway 26 in the 1980s, she said.
Masotti said she connected with the mission of Project 16:49 and looks to help out however she can.
“There’s no reason for kids not to have a home,” she said. “I do believe that everybody is entitled to food, shelter, love — especially kids, honestly.”
It will take some time before Hathaway can tally how much money they raised this year. In the years prior, he said they had raised about $26,000 in total.
But Hathaway also pointed to the donations he receives all year long. Neighbors drop off goods for the homeless on his patio and others will hand him money knowing he is connected with local groups, he said.
Masotti guessed half of Janesville knows who “The Awesome Mailman” is.
“They trust me,” Hathaway said.