Lifestyle & Human Interest

Couple Saves Life of Malnourished Homeless Vet, Discovers He's Been Missing for 40 Years


It’s very easy to ignore the ugliness around us. As we race to accomplish our goals, make money to care for ourselves and our families, and pursue our interests, it can be easier to focus on our needs and ignore those who are suffering.

Stephanie and Al Blackbird from Arizona were in one of the richest areas of Scottsdale when they came across Alan Vandevander in a Whole Foods. He looked dazed and confused as he stood in an aisle looking at candy, a $5 bill clutched in one hand. They wanted to help.

“We saw him just holding this five dollar bill and just kind of wondering around,” said Blackbird, according to ABC 15. “He didn’t look well … He looked lost and I couldn’t walk away, I couldn’t in good conscience walk away without at least checking on this man.”

Vandevander said he was looking for Life Savers, because he needed sugar. He was afraid he was about to keel over.

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“I was still concerned and before we left the store, I found him again and he looked very unwell,” she wrote on the GoFundMe they started for him. “I approached him and asked if he needed help to find something.”

“He said he needed sugar because he felt weak from low blood sugar. After getting him some candy, I realized he was very very thin, and needed more than candy. We got him a sandwich and some water, and got him seated while I visited with him.”

“We made a connection, he explained he was homeless, living in the desert for over 20 YEARS in the midst of Scottsdale’s affluence.”

The Blackbirds kept thinking about Vandevander, about how thin, how alone and how vulnerable he was. The next day was the day before Christmas, and they set out to find him using the few descriptions he’d given them about his camp in the desert.

After over two hours of searching, they came across his setup in the desert. Stephanie posted a video to her Facebook page that detailed their initial meeting and subsequent search.

At first he didn’t want their help, but after they spoke with him, brought him supplies, and showed they really cared, he let them take him to a hospital. Since then, they have learned much more about Vandevander.

First, he was practically on death’s doorstep. He was severely underweight, he was dehydrated, and he had suffered a heart attack.

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Second, he had family. His sisters in Indiana had lost track of him for 40 years, and assumed he’d passed away. They’d all had a terrible, abusive childhood, and their mother had been murdered.

“I started looking for him in 1990 and I kept coming across dead ends,” his sister Julie said. “I never ever thought I would hear from my brother again.”

The siblings finally spoke for the first time in four decades over the phone before Christmas, and Julie hopes to visit her brother soon.

Third, Vandevander was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He was not just any veteran, though: He’d received a purple heart.

The gentleman is now recovering at the VA, but needs plenty of time to recuperate and put his life back together.

To help, the Blackbirds have set up a GoFundMe, which has gotten over $3,800 in donations so far. His family hopes to visit soon, and things are finally looking up for Vandevander.

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