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How a Tucson woman gives back to the homeless during the holidays

Posted at 10:44 PM, Dec 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-26 01:05:54-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) For decades Julie Garrettson kept a secret from her closest friends -- a sweet secret chock-full of walnuts.

"I didn't want to talk about it because it wasn't a big deal to me and it was just a family thing," Garrettson said. "It was fine."

Every December Julie's kitchen in her Tucson home smells like banana bread. While she bakes for her family and clients, she also makes sweet treats for homeless people in town. 

In October, Julie was "belled" by Ben's Bells Project for spreading kindness around the holidays. 

It's been a holiday tradition for Julie for 45 years and it started when she was 19. Julie and a friend were walking in a local park when she saw two homeless men. She gave them both trays of banana bread, and when she saw their reaction she knew she had to keep going.

"It was two banana breads and it changed their Christmas," Julie said. "And that's when I realized you know I may be very poor, but I'm still not that poor and I can help make somebody smile today."

While working as a housekeeper Julie used her Christmas bonuses to buy extra flour and sugar. She only did what she could afford and wanted to keep it private. Besides her three kids and grandkids, for 39 years no one else really knew until her son, Jalen, wrote a Facebook post about it.

"I was just really, I was surprised that I knew her all these years," said Julie's friend of 40 years Candis Byall. "And also I said, 'I want to go with you and deliver them.'"

Now with donations and help in the kitchen from loved ones, it's more than just bread. Julie went from 10, to 53, to 240 bags of goodies for the homeless. 

The bags include socks, water, sandwiches and frozen banana bread loaves to keep everything cool. 

Delivery day is just before Christmas. Julie goes with friends and family to local parks and areas around I-10. In all of the years Julie has been making deliveries, she has often seen the same people. She says she keeps doing it for herself because it's so rewarding. 

"I had one make me a Christmas ornament out of a palm tree and it made me cry," Julie said. "It made me cry because he said, 'will you please stay because you've been bringing this to me for years and I've never gotten to give you anything, but it will only take me a minute.' And in about 15 minutes he made me a Christmas ornament that's on my tree."