A New York City bank employee is in the news for going the extra mile to ensure that a local homeless man was given a proper goodbye.
For more than a decade, Juanita Vega served as Richard Coleman's alarm clock, waking him up each morning in the vestibule of the bank where she worked. They grew fond of one another over the years, exchanging a few friendly words in the morning; he called her "sis" and would give her small trinkets he found.
Earlier this year Vega stopped seeing him in the vestibule every morning, and she became concerned. Last month she learned from a police officer that Coleman, 62, had died and, with no known next of kin, would be buried on Hart Island, New York City's potter's field, where thousands of unknown or destitute people are interred each year by inmates from the local prisons.
"I know about [the] potter's field and I didn't want him to end up there," Vega told local news site DNAInfo. "He was a nice person. He didn't deserve that."
So she organized a proper burial. With the help of her boyfriend, a funeral director, she arranged for Coleman to be buried in a cemetery in New Jersey. The funeral cost Vega $2,000.
Vega's kindness toward Coleman has been widely publicized after it was first reported by DNAInfo's Lindsay Armstrong. None of the reports name the bank where Vega works or what position she holds.
Coleman had spent more than a decade living on the streets of one Manhattan neighborhood, and was well liked by locals, despite occasional outbursts caused by mental health and substance abuse problems. "Smokey," as he was known, was remembered for his humor and kindness, as well as his unusual and often surprisingly elegant outfits. When they learned of his death, his neighbors organized a small memorial service for him and donated $1,500 in his name to the National Coalition to End Homelessness.
"I just wanted to do the right thing," Vega told DNAInfo. "Everybody knew him, so why should he end up in [the] potter's field?"