John Loughlin thought he would be on the streets in Philadelphia forever. At 57 years old, he was living in his wheelchair, still coping with the injury he sustained years ago when he was shot in Kensington.
“I had given up on people completely,” Loughlin said. “I was a real salty guy.”
And then came Lolly Galvin. Galvin and her friends were giving haircuts to homeless people in Center City. When Loughlin strolled by, they offered him one. He said no. That is, until, two weeks later when Loughlin says his hair got out of control and he saw Galvin again.
“And then it all started with a haircut,” Loughlin said, giggling.
John grew up in Ardmore on the Main Line. He went to private school and had two dedicated, involved parents. His parents divorced when he was four-years-old, so he mostly grew up with his mom who he says was his best friend. But when Loughlin was 14, his mother passed away.
“I just gave up,” he said. “I know my mom wouldn’t have wanted me to do that.”
From that day on, Loughlin's life was a series of bad events. He got into drugs, which forced him to lose financial control. From there, he couldn’t pay for his apartment. Loughlin was living on the streets, traveling back and forth between Center City and Kensington.
While in Kensington one day about four years ago, Loughlin says he got shot and suffered severe leg injuries. After some treatment, he was back on the streets. Then, about a year ago, Loughlin got hit by a car. After visits to different local hospitals, he found himself back on the same Philadelphia streets.
“I was living in my wheelchair,” he said. “I pretty much thought I’d be on the streets forever.”
That’s when Galvin came and gave Loughlin his haircut. From there, Galvin could see Loughlin's injuries and how much help he needed.
“I knew what this was going to be if I took this on,” Galvin said. “I kind of took him under my wing and we’ve been getting through this together ever since.”
Galvin is no stranger to helping the homeless. In 2016, she started The Dignity Project. She says it began as a GoFundMe with a goal of $500 simply to raise money for her to do random acts of kindness for the homeless. From there, she says, social media helped the project spiral.
With the help of friends, family, and plenty of strangers, Galvin and her friends have kept the project growing. She and a friend started Philly Street Cuts, where they give free haircuts to the homeless. Through an outpouring of donations, Galvin has given 254 sleeping bags to the homeless.
Galvin also hands out “dignity bags," which she fills with hand warmers, socks, chapstick, deodorant, and other essentials.
“I’m really most proud of the response from other people,” Galvin said, referring to the hundreds of donations she has received from people across the globe. Those donations include ones sent for Loughlin.
With Galvin’s help, Loughlin was transferred to different local hospitals before he found one that could give him the surgery he needed to heal from being hit by the car. Eventually Loughlin got back surgery to treat the injuries he sustained, and now, he is out of his wheelchair and walking again.
“She’s my angel, my best friend,” Loughlin said. “If I’m having a bad day, I call her. One person changed my whole life.”
To celebrate The Dignity Project’s one-year anniversary, Galvin and some friends are throwing a “Chili Cookoff” on Saturday, January 28 at Warehouse on Watts. The event is open to the community with a $10 suggested donation. All proceeds will benefit The Dignity Project and other Philadelphia-area nonprofits. You can find more information on the event here.
As for Loughlin, he says the next step is finding housing and hopefully fulfilling his dream of getting on “Ellen." One thing he knows for sure, though, is that Galvin will help him through it. He says he is constantly amazed by the amount of donations and love he receives from people around the globe. But none of this would’ve been possible for him without Galvin, he says.
“I got more love than a little bit,” Loughlin said, laughing.