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On Island Profile: Brother Howard Fishbein

Oct. 26, 2008 — Howard Fishbein says he was known as a high roller in Las Vegas casinos. Nowadays he is known as the "sandwich man" by the homeless on St. Croix.
He is also known as Brother Howard.
Fishbein loves cars and owned some pricey ones, he says, such as an Aston Martin, a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari. Now he drives around St. Croix delivering anything from meals to hospital beds for the needy in a big old dusty maroon 1993 Buick Roadmaster station wagon.
"This is a wonderful old car, but she wants to stop at every gas station," Fishbein says.
A New England accent is still evident when 67-year-old Fishbein talks. He is originally from Springfield, Mass., growing up in a close-knit upper middle class Jewish family. His father was a retail merchant. The yearly summer vacation at the beach in Connecticut was always special, Fishbein says.
In school he harassed teachers and got suspended a number of times, but did well academically. He was "a nasty, rude stinker," and close to being a delinquent, Fishbein says. He got drafted into the U.S. Army in 1963 and opted to take advanced training to become a psychiatric nurse and stay stateside.
"I was really blessed to be stateside during the Vietnam War," Fishbein says.
After discharge, he started a salvage business of commodities in Springfield, making a small fortune at 26. That's when Fishbein started taking monthly junkets to Las Vegas.
"I started living high off the hog, got a little crazy and wasted money," he says. "Then I got into real estate, made another fortune and wasted it away."
Fishbein started a condo development in Florida and made another small fortune, he says. He learned about and fell in love with the islands of the Caribbean on the numerous junkets he took. In 1978 he sold the condo development, retired and decided to move to St. Croix, since it is a U.S. territory. He bought property on the east end and has worked on building a house there for more than 20 years.
In 1982 Fisbhein was "born again," he says, and became a Christian by profession of faith at the Peter's Rest Seventh Day Adventist Church. He got baptized in 1989 at Mahanaim Church in Naples, Fla.
"Nothing was wrong in my life — I was literally on top of the world," Fishbein says. "My first Sabbath at church I read the Bible, and the Holy Spirit moved me."
With his embrace of Christianity came a change in lifestyle.
"I realized God wanted me in his service helping people," Fishbein says. "I don't worship money anymore. In my life I enjoy doing what I want — when I want. I get up in the morning and do anything the Lord wants me to do. Freedom and health are the biggest blessings I have to be able to help people."
Because there aren't any soup kitchens open weekends in Christiansted, Fishbein says, on his way to church he was led to take sandwiches to homeless people. Four homeless people walked by during the Source interview at Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted, and he asked each one if they ate today.
His efforts to make sure the homeless got fed led to the beginning of the nonprofit Project Help in 1991.
"It's pretty much a one-man operation," Fishbein says.
In a lot of cases he picks up where agencies leave off. Numerous agencies such as Human Services, the Women's Coalition and St. Croix Mission Outreach refer clients to him for assistance. He has enabled children to go to the States for needed surgeries at Shriners' or St. Judes hospitals that couldn't be done in the Virgin Islands. Project Help is a support program for food, shelter and social rehabilitation for poor and homeless people, Fishbein says.
For more information, call Fishbein at 773-8190. Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to Project Help, P.O. Box 4202, Christiansted, V.I. 00822, or contact Project Help by email. His faith-based project always welcomes prayers, he added.
"This is so much more rewarding than when I had hundreds of thousands of dollars, homes and expensive furniture," Fishbein says.
He lives with his Crucian dog Keturah, the latest of 11 he has had. He loves dogs and even spends time volunteering at the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center.
He says his favorite hymn is "It is Well With My Soul." His fondest wish would be for his epitaph to read "Church builder and helper for the poor."
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