‘The Baby has Nothing to Sleep In’
With seven kids and very little money, Wendy (not her real name) was badly in need of help when she first heard about Simple Needs GA. “I had just had a baby, and we were coming out of homelessness,” she recalled. “I was crying to one of the ladies who had helped me enroll my daughter into pre-K. I was like, ‘I’m thankful that we got the apartment, but we are sleeping on the floor. The baby has nothing to sleep in.’ ”
After hearing about the family, SNGA’s founder, Brenda Rhodes, invited Wendy to come to the warehouse and get furniture and beds for her new, but empty, apartment. “Ms. Brenda had already picked out a dining room table for me, because I have such a large family, and it was just beautiful,” Wendy said. “She didn’t even know me, but she had that table sitting there waiting for us, and she gave us beds. We had nothing. We really did not know how we were going to be able to afford to pay the rent every month and try to put furniture into the house.”
It was just the beginning of a long-term relationship between SNGA and Wendy’s family. Over the years, Wendy’s children, who range in age from six to 18 years old (one child has autism and severe ADHD), have been thrilled to receive brand-new birthday and Christmas presents with the help of SNGA’s donors and volunteers. “They have brought smiles to my kids’ faces many times,” Wendy said.
She also expressed gratitude for the seemingly small things SNGA makes available to families—plates, blankets, pillows, cleaning supplies, appliances and much more. “A lot of families cannot afford these kinds of things, especially after coming out of a hotel or a shelter and not having anything,” Wendy said. “I really look up to Ms. Brenda. Whenever I can volunteer, I would like to help her, because she does an awesome thing out there.”
‘The Artist in the Family’
Our My Birthday Matters program focuses on homeless children whose parents just aren’t able to afford to buy them birthday presents or otherwise celebrate their special days in the way that most of us are accustomed to. This can be a heart-wrenching situation for both the kids and their parents, who are already facing very difficult circumstances. Families are often deeply grateful when we show up with things like brand-new toys, school supplies, a no-sew blanket, a stuffed animal, reading books, coloring books, underwear, socks, and other useful items.
Just to give you a sense of what this program can mean for families, here’s the story of a family we helped. This family was considered homeless by the school system because the mom and her three sons were living in an extended-stay hotel off of Delk Road. Social workers told us about the upcoming 11th birthday of one of the boys.
After buying items on the child’s wish list, our volunteer brought the presents to the hotel. We interviewed the mom about the experience. Here are some of the things she had to say:
“You blessed us. Yes, you guys did. I was in a sticky situation, worrying about the kids’ living situation. I could not spend any money on my son’s birthday. Even cupcakes would have been too much because it would have taken away from the money we needed to be able to move out of the hotel.”
“You guys came through for him. He cried. He was hollering. He was really excited, because he did not expect anything. He knew our situation. And he has never gone without a birthday. I had always provided that, so it was hard for me, but you guys came through in the nick of time.”
The family ate cupcakes together, sang happy birthday and tore into the presents, which included an electronic game, art supplies and several board games, including Monopoly. The board games have been therapeutic for the family, the mom said. “Playing them together has really helped us bond on a new level,” she said. “The kids beat me in Monopoly, and I couldn’t believe it. Those memories are priceless.”
For the 11-year-old boy, the art supplies have been especially important. He loves to draw and cherishes the art kit. “Every day, when he gets home from school, he draws a picture,” his mom said. “He is the artist in the family. He takes great pride in the art kit, which has a nice case to it. He says, ‘I want to keep it neat.’ He is learning to take care of his things.”
The family recently moved into a rental house but cannot yet afford furniture or even beds. When we told the mom about our Simple Household Needs program, which supplies families with furniture, beds and other household items, she burst into tears. “We have been on the floor since the 12th when we moved here, and I could not afford air mattresses or anything,” she said. But then we had to give her the bad news: The need in our community is so great that we have a long list of families waiting to receive household items from us; it would be possibly six or eight weeks before we could provide any furniture or beds to the mom and her sons. As we explained to her, Simple Needs GA doesn’t own a truck, and relies on just a few incredibly dedicated volunteers to pick up and deliver household items to families using rental vehicles. It’s expensive and time-consuming to do this, and so we can’t possibly help everyone we want to help, which is tough for us.
Fortunately, we will be able to provide birthday joy for this mom’s seven-year-old son later this month. The mom, a heart patient who is studying to become a minister, was full of gratitude for the help her family had received from Simple Needs GA so far. “We are still using and experiencing those things that we were blessed with,” she said. “But it’s not just about the things you gave us. The experience—just knowing that someone is out there who cares—is what is remarkable.”
‘FILLING IN THE GAPS’—ONE CLIENT AT A TIME
As a smaller, community-based nonprofit, Simple Needs GA could never be a “one-stop shop” for all of its clients’ needs. And yet, when your friends and neighbors come together to serve a common goal, amazing things can happen.
Take the family of five that recently contacted us for help.
“We relocated to Cobb County after our family went through foreclosure,” the mom explained. “We lost everything we had in our storage unit after not being able to pay for it.”
Dad eventually found work, and the family was able to move into an apartment, but its large rooms were starkly empty. In late March, our tireless volunteers brought her a king-sized mattress and box springs, two full mattresses and box springs, and a table and chairs. The boys were so excited to have beds so they didn’t have to sleep on the floor any longer.
Brenda later met the mom at our space. “She picked out gifts for both boys’ birthdays which included some of the great books recently donated,” Brenda said. “She also received a cleaning kit, mop and broom—she was very excited about the broom because she just had a hand-held one that was nearly useless—and was able to find plenty of items the family needed from our household room. We gave them hygiene items, underwear and socks. On April 8  more furniture was delivered to them.”
FACEBOOK POST FROM SNGA FOUNDER BRENDA RHODES, APRIL 2017:
“Just rec’d a call from a single father. He had searched furniture donations online and found us. All he wanted was beds for his three kids. They were living with a family member and just moved into an apartment. When I asked him what size bed he wanted, he said he didn’t need one; he was just concerned about his children (we are going to give him a bed of course). When I asked him what else he wanted (sofa, etc.), he was surprised… and he didn’t expect that we also will help him with small items such as dishes, towels, pots and pans, cleaning kit, hygiene and much more. I explained our birthday program – that we could wait until their birthdays to give them gifts or help them all right now (he chose the latter; I’m sure they don’t have much). We’ll give the kids school uniforms and let them go through the boxes of used books we have (they will get some new ones with their birthday gifts). He just took them to the library and said they like to read. I am pretty sure that he was crying while we were talking. Which of course makes me cry. 🙂 ”