Every Town Needs a Don Lupo

Every Town Needs a Don Lupo
Words by Sarah Pitts
Photos by Kyle Carpenter
 Don Lupo’s mother died when he was 16 years old. In her will, she left money to Christ’s Mission Church in Decatur, whose mission is “Love thy neighbor, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.” This is now the maxim by which he lives each day.

Don has a degree in Religion from Samford and spent the first few decades of post-graduate life working in men’s clothing. Not until he was forty-eight years old did he decide to get involved in Birmingham city government, when he ran a write-in campaign for president of Birmingham’s Redmont neighborhood. Six years after that he took his position in the mayor’s office, through which he has served the people of Birmingham for the past nineteen years.

Don’s official title is Director of the Mayor’s Office of Citizens Assistance, and in this role he acts as a liaison between the mayor’s office, City Services, and the citizens of Birmingham. He has a Facebook following of almost 5,000 and he’s the man to call when you need to get something done—especially connecting those in need with available resources.

“When you’re the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Citizens Assistance, you come across all sorts of situations,” he says. You run across people who need a pothole fixed, a tree trimmed, water or power restored to their home, or food in their refrigerator. They might have a mattress but certainly no bed. They might have a change of clothes for tomorrow, but not for the next day.” Don’s job is to bridge the gap between need and resources. Through his conviction and tenacity, Don Lupo has become Birmingham’s patron saint of sorts, constantly looking for any lack that he might fill.

Empathy for his neighbors in need has led Don to continually push for more local government support of Birmingham’s people. He developed a winter warming station that allows those experiencing homelessness in our city to stay warm during the increasingly harsh winter months. In response to his unique ability to identify and bring together people and resources, twenty-five Birmingham restaurants and other businesses have signed up to provide meals, and so far no one has said no to Don’s requests for help.

Don is constantly available to provide assistance, whether that means driving to Tennessee to pick up leftover food from the Bonnaroo Music Festival or meeting at 9 p.m. in the Toys “R” Us parking lot to transport hundreds of children’s toys. After years spent building relationships with shelters around town, Don knows the needs of each, and the shelter directors trust him with their greatest needs. He has a particular love for Birmingham’s Firehouse Ministries Homeless Shelter where he has been involved for fifteen years and where he will serve as board president for the next two years.

When Don talks about the Firehouse, his eyes fill with tears and he can’t speak without choking up. “The Firehouse shelter is not like any other shelter in town. We don’t care if you’re off your meds—we’ll take you. If you’re drunk—we’ll take you. If you can’t give anything back—we’ll take you. The reason I love the Firehouse is that if it were me—if I ever needed a place to go—they would take me.” And that sentiment is the very core of Don’s philosophy of goodness.

Don Lupo is a man who believes in the reciprocity of giving. Although those who give and those who receive may never meet, it is an act that benefits both giver and receiver, and an act that strengthens community, spreads love, and affirms dignity. Don loves the South, and he loves Birmingham, and that’s why he works to make it a better and more equitable place. We can only hope that every city has its own Don Lupo to serve the interests of all who live there.