CHICAGO (CBS) — One good turn deserves another. Candice Payne, a woman who helped find hotel rooms for more than 100 homeless people during last week’s dangerous deep freeze, received a surprise $50,000 gift during an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Wednesday.
Payne said, when she saw temperatures were going to drop to 20 below zero two days in a row last week, she called her assistants at work and told them not to come in, and then started to worry about what would happen to people who spend their days and nights living on the streets.
“I started thinking what about the people who live outside, who don’t have a home to go to, and it was a no-brainer,” Payne said.
She started calling hotels to find rooms for the homeless, but at first wasn’t having any luck.
“As I get to calling around, no one wanted them. It wasn’t good for business,” she said.
When she called the Amber Inn in Bronzeville, she finally got a yes, and charged 20 hotel rooms on her American Express card, but she still needed help getting people who needed the rooms to the hotel. She posted about it on social media, offering to pay people to use their vehicles to provide transportation, and soon donations and offers to help bring food came flooding in.
Payne said she and her fellow volunteers ended up booking 72 rooms for five nights, providing shelter for 122 people overall.
“We had all type of people. We had pregnant women. We had children. We had disabled people. We had people who just got out of the hospital from having surgery, and was just going to try to live on the street. It was really overwhelming,” she said.
A real estate agent, Payne also has established a non-profit, Action For A Cause, to help provide temporary and permanent housing for the homeless. She said she plans to buy distressed multi-unit buildings, renovate them, and use them to provide long-term housing for those in need. The organization also will transform shipping containers into temporary shelters.
Thanks to DeGeneres, she now has $50,000 to help her toward that goal. DeGeneres presented Payne with two $25,000 checks from Wal-Mart, which donated the money to Payne after learning that’s where she bought much of the supplies she gave to the homeless.
Helping the homeless is something deeply personal for Payne, whose boyfriend used to be homeless.
“The misconception about homeless people is they think that they’re lazy, or they just don’t want a job. Truth be told, a lot of people are one paycheck away from the same situation,” she said.