Skid Row in Los Angeles is home to approximately 2,500 homeless people, according to the L.A. Chamber of Commerce. It’s not the kind of place where you’d expect to find clowns, balloon artists and mascots. But now a new group of volunteers is throwing birthday parties for homeless kids at the Union Rescue Mission. Mary Davis is one of the volunteers. As part of our occasional series, "What's Your Story," we talked to Davis about how she moonlights on Skid Row as the mascot "Skiddy Cat."
“Skiddy Cat is a cat and she has amazing pink sunglasses and a pink skirt ‘cause she’s really sassy. But she’s lovable,” Davis said. “I like the fact that I have a fat suit underneath because I have a belly and I get to play with that. There are two hula hoops inside, so I can move them around to make my hips shake.”
The Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row shelters about 200 women and children every month. Volunteers celebrate the children's birthdays with music, performances and balloon blowing.
Every month, the mission shelters more than 200 women and children. Davis and her troupe of volunteers throw parties to celebrate the kids who have had birthdays that month. For some of them, she said, birthdays can be emotionally tough.
“We had a girl at one of our birthday parties tell us that her dad left them,” Davis said. “He left her on her birthday. And so she was telling one of the volunteers, you know, 'I really don’t like birthday parties because my dad left on that day.' ”
As Skiddy Cat, Davis bounces around the room, high-fiving and hugging kids. The children quickly get attached to the character because she’s kind and affectionate -- that’s just what a lot of the kids need.
“Skid Row can be a pretty crazy place at times,” Davis said. “There is a lot of drug activity on the streets. I’ve seen children that have been homeless, and their parents don’t come to the Union Rescue Mission, or can't get in, and they do live in a tent on the street here in Skid Row.”
A lot of the moms in the shelter are in drug rehab programs, so they don’t get to leave very often. With restricted transportation, the kids might have trouble getting a ride to a friend’s birthday party. So Davis hopes to give them a special night, once a month, where they can feel like normal children.
As Skiddy Cat, Mary Davis doles out hugs to the kids in the shelter. She says most are in need of affection. Skid Row can be a tough place to grow up--some of their mothers are in drug rehab programs. Many of their fathers are not in their lives.
Davis is actually a professional mascot. At the University of Alabama, she was an elephant. In Katy, Texas, she was a Katy Tiger. She has taught classes in the art of being a mascot. But she said the best suit she has ever worn is the Skiddy Cat suit -- Davis created the character specifically for the Skid Row kids.
“And we just want to show these kids: Yeah, you might be in a shelter, you might not always get the most attention, your dad might not be with your family anymore. But hey, you know what, you’re pretty special. And you’re worthy of love.”