-- Neal Shytles spends the holidays alone.
The 54-year-old is homeless and has been living in a shelter in Norfolk, Virginia, for two years. With no family nearby and Thanksgiving approaching, Shytles has longed for something that money can’t buy.
“One night, I was talking with two of my friends at the shelter about how lonely it is during the holidays,” he said. “It hurts every day of the year but on Thanksgiving and Christmas it’s 10 times worse being by yourself.”
Shytles went back to his room and created a personal ad titled “Wanted: A family to share Thanksgiving with,” asking someone to invite him into their home to spend the holiday with their family.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of Facebook friends and I was trying to think of places where people would see it,” Shytles said. “So I posted the ad on a few Facebook pages of news sites in the area.”
Shytles was soon approached by a local television station to be interviewed about his heartbreaking request.
Just 40 minutes away Ashley McLemore of Newport News, Virginia, was watching the teaser.
"In the teaser was the quote that said ‘I’m lonely 365 days a year,’ which absolutely broke my heart,” said McLemore, a 7th grade English teacher. “I called my husband and asked if he would mind having him with us for Thanksgiving.”
Without a second thought, McLemore called Shytles and offered him an invitation.
"She said, we really want you to come over," Shytles said. "I started crying because I was so excited and then she started crying too."
Since posting his ad, Shytles has received more media attention than anticipated.
“I thought it would just be a local thing,” he said. “I didn’t realize it would go viral, but since my story aired, the donations at my shelter have gone up. I think it’s made people open up their hearts.”
In addition to Thanksgiving at the McLemores, Shytles has since received more holiday invites than he can count.
“People have been calling from all over the country,” he said. “When I tell them I’ve already accepted an offer, some are inviting me to their homes for Christmas. They’re even willing to fly me out of state to come see them.”
Ashley McLemore isn't surprised at the overwhelming response to Shytles' request.
"I think he is absolutely wonderful," she said. "The things I’ve seen him post on Facebook are always about the people in the shelter. He seems to really have a heart for helping other people."
For now, Shytles is looking forward to having Thanksgiving with the McLemores, where he’ll enjoy both lunch and dinner, and quality time with the couple and some of their friends.
“I just can’t wait to be in that family atmosphere,” he said. “That’s all I ever wanted in life. I didn’t ask for money. For me, it was never about the riches. I want something to take away the loneliness, where I can love people and they love me back.”