SIOUX CITY -- Last fall, Siouxland Soup Kitchen Manager Danielle Tott was looking for volunteers to spend 24 hours with her living on the streets of Sioux City in effort to raise awareness about homelessness.
Julie Ebel was eager to sleep in the cold with Tott. In fact, she was the only person to sign up, said Tott, who met the 44-year-old a year ago while working at The Warming Shelter, a seasonal shelter founded to ensure that no one freezes during the coldest winter months. Julie also volunteered for Tott at the soup kitchen.
"She always described herself as kind of a spoiled kid from Okoboji. I don't know if she just appreciated the other side of the fence or what it was. She just had a natural draw towards it," said Tott, who described Julie as one of the sweetest individuals she has ever met, but also "outspoken" and "quite feisty." "She used to go to AA and NA meetings, even though she was not a drinker or a drug addict, as moral support. I don't know what kind of a person is that naturally good and giving. She just really was."
On a chilly November day, the two women grabbed coats, books bags and flashlights from Erik's Closet, a clothing giveaway area in the soup kitchen, before hitting the streets. While Tott finished up her shift in the kitchen, Julie panhandled. Tott said people spat on Julie and screamed at her, but she was unfazed by their reactions.
"I had to work that afternoon. I think I spent 20 hours on the street. She spent the whole 24," Tott said. "Me and her just kind of walked the streets that evening. We went to an AA meeting and spent two hours talking with some of our guys who are in recovery."
At some point during the night, Tott said the women split up, with Tott on the west side and Julie ending up downtown. They met back up in the morning, scrounged up breakfast and went to the Gospel Mission.
"It was amazing and she couldn't wait to do it with me this year," Tott said Julie remarked of the homeless experience. "We were just the two people who were going to continue to make some kind of an impact this way."
Tott said she had heard that Julie had gotten sick, but she said she didn't initially know that the novel coronavirus was the cause. Tott later found out from a mutual friend who is a nurse that Julie had been hospitalized.
Julie lost her battle with COVID-19 on Sept. 19. Now, Tott is planning a memorial service at the soup kitchen for Julie, as well as members of the homeless community who have recently succumbed to other health conditions. Tott is also reevaluating this year's homelessness awareness outing.
"I wouldn't do it without her, quite frankly," Tott said.
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