'A Hug From Matt:' mother helps the homeless to honor her son's memory

Nearly four years after her son died of a prescription overdose, a local mother carries on her son's memory--and his spirit of generosity--by helping homeless people in Wilmington.

At shelters, overpasses and other places where the homeless congregate, MaryBeth Chihocki of Bear periodically drops by to deliver nylon bags containing essential items: blankets, gloves, toiletries, and non-perishable snacks. Bags are created for men and women, and on the front read: "A Hug From Matt."

"He taught me to be very generous. He was the kind of guy who would give his shirt off his back to anyone," Chihocki said of her son.

Among the many things she missed about having her son around: "his hugs."

Since becoming a regular visitor, Chihocki said some of the homeless and people battling substance abuse have become her friends.

"We're all one illness, one injury, one job loss away from becoming these people that everybody is scared of and everybody shies away from," Chihocki said. "I think we need to teach each other that they're human beings, and they deserve exactly what you do: a warm bed, a warm meal, a warm blanket, [and] a pillow to lay their head on."

During one visit to Wilmington recently, Chihocki made stops at Friendship House, The Salvation Army, and a railroad overpass to deliver goods to homeless people. At one point, she stopped in traffic, jumped out of her vehicle and delivered a sack of items to someone walking on the sidewalk.

Chihocki has been a nurse, and since the loss of her son she has worked with addiction advocates, sometimes guiding addicts into treatment. A Hug From Matt has a Facebook page, but she does a lot of the work herself.

"Even though he's no longer here, I'm still learning from Matt," Chihocki said. "I'm learning from the people I meet on the street. They're wonderful, and they are my Matts."

"I want to make sure they're taken care of."

Reporter - Anchor

Mark Fowser is a veteran journalist in Delaware.