On Friday afternoons, dozens of kids troop up to the front porch of Nellie Hogan’s home in the Hi-Crest neighborhood for a bag of candy.
She prepares 50 to 60 bags of candy for the kids. She doesn’t know them all by name but tends to recognize them. Some stop by right after stepping off the bus at the nearby corner of S.E. Golf Park and Fremont, and others pause while walking home. They find out about her candy by word of mouth.
“They’re sweet kids, all of them,” said Hogan, who turned 81 on Sunday.
This past Friday, she sat at the table on her porch behind a picnic basket filled with plastic bags containing Skittles, peanut M&Ms and miniature Twix. As the first school bus drove up to the intersection and stopped, she watched as children — middle-schoolers who attend Jardine Academy — headed toward her porch.
She greeted each visitor with a smile and a few kind words — hello, how are you, how was school.
Most answered briefly, a bit shy but always polite.
Some briefly stared at a seal-point Siamese cat stretched across the table — she welcomes several strays — as they made their modest replies, then said “thank you” before turning to walk down the steps and head home.
A few returned later with younger siblings who wanted to retrieve their own bag of candy.
Hogan knows that some of the kids don’t have a good home life, and she wants her front porch to be a place they can come and feel safe. It is important to her to connect with the kids.
“It shows them that somebody cares about them,” she said.
As two more kids approached the corner from the east, she called, “It’s candy day!”
After the pair claimed their bags and returned in the direction they came from, she said they lived a couple of blocks away but still stopped by for candy. Kids continue to trickle in until about 7 p.m., she said, when she tells them it is too late to be out wandering the streets.
Hogan knows many of the neighborhood’s residents. She is active in Hi-Crest’s Neighborhood Improvement Association, and she helps with the Topeka Rescue Mission’s NET Reach program at the former Avondale East school building. She helps there on Taco Tuesdays and when Harvesters food bank distributes food.
She estimates that she gives away 200 to 300 handmade fleece hats in the winter. And when new families move into the neighborhood, she brings them cookies and a card with her name and phone number so they can call her if they need help or advice.
Hi-Crest has many low-income families, and Hogan said candy is one thing you don’t buy when you don’t have money.
She and her husband, Ed, returned to Hi-Crest about four years ago after living in Berryton, where they had a big house that, as it turned out, was perfect for foster children. The Hogans fostered about 40 children — including several teenage boys — over a decade of providing foster care, typically about four at a time.
They saw many kids who were hurting, she said, but also saw many of the children they fostered adopted by “wonderful families.”
Before moving to the country, the couple lived on S.E. Girard in the Hi-Crest neighborhood for 41 years. The Hogans were honored two years ago for their commitment to bettering the community with the Champions of Character Award given by Safe Streets Coalition and Topeka City of Character.
Contact reporter Samantha Foster at (785) 295-1186 or @samfoster_ks on Twitter.