A South Plainfield (N.J.) High School yearbook shows a photo of Jeffrey Hillman (top right) with senior classmates including John Graf Jr. (bottom right) taken on the playground of what is now John E. Riley school. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Weber Hunt)(Photo: Photo courtesy of Sharon Weber Hunt)
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- For all the homeless people who ever have gone unnoticed, Jeffrey Hillman is making up for them.
1976 South Plainfield (N.J.) High School graduate is the barefoot
homeless man who received a pair of new boots from a New York police
officer in a photo that has gone viral. The publicity has led more than
200 South Plainfield classmates to organize the Jeffrey Hillman Survival
Fund on Facebook.
MORE: NYC homeless man shoeless again despite boots
"This is not a man who should be homeless,"
said John Graf Jr., a childhood friend and community organizer. "He was
full of life. Everything he did, he did with vitality."
Robert Hunt added, "And he came from a good family. It just goes to show
that it can happen to anyone. Anyone can become homeless."
thumbing through their high school yearbooks around the dining room
table of the home of Hunt and his wife, Sharon Weber Hunt, they and Graf
reminisced about the fun they had growing up together. But while Graf
and his twin bother, Robert, remained close with the Hunts and several
other childhood friends, Hillman went into the Army after graduation and
never was heard from again, Graf said.
According to published
media reports, Hillman said that he has two children, Nikita, 22, and
Jeffrey, 24, but has had little contact with them since a visit three
years ago. Hillman also has a brother, Kirk, living in Plainfield, Pa.,
said Graf, adding that he is trying to get in touch with him, as well as
New York City social services for veterans.
MORE: NYPD officer's kindness sparks online sensation
"We want to get him
the help he needs and raise any funds that are needed to do that," said
Graf, who shared mascot duties with Hillman for the South Plainfield
High School Tigers.
Hillman also was a varsity basketball player, Graf said, and
Ronnie Kuboski, his coach and English teacher, is among the more than
200 who have expressed concern. Kuboski is retired and living in
Hillsborough, Graf said.
Classmate Ellen Salerno DeMaio of
Middletown alerted Graf about Hillman. After their classmate identified
himself in media reports about the viral police photo, Salerno said that
she immediately thought of Graf to help because he has worked in social
services with the United Way of Somerset County and the Somerset County
Mental Health Board.
"I was shocked and dismayed," she
said. "He's one of our own. South Plainfield is not that big. I knew we
had to do something.
"He is such a great guy, a great
basketball player and Tiger mascot, and he had a smile that would knock
your socks off," Salerno continued. "I hope he takes the help."
Bob Makin, The (East Brunswick, N.J.) Home News Tribune