Helping a Struggling Family
Guest column by Lauree Purcell
Editor’s note: Lauree Purcell is a freelance writer and mother of two teenage daughters in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Last month, my mother and I were happy to be a part of an intricate web of community support lifting up those who are facing much greater challenges. Getting a home ready to sell, we had quite a bit of furniture that we no longer wanted. With leadership from Celia and Becky, whom I know from my church, we decided to help a mother we’ll call “Jane” and her two elementary school–aged children. When I arrived at Jane’s apartment, her belongings were in piles and bags. The children were sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
I asked Celia how she keeps from getting stressed and overwhelmed by all the problems of the families she and Becky are helping.
Some months ago, Jane and her children moved to a local homeless shelter that has one-room apartments for parents with children. Our church sponsors the apartment in that shelter where Jane lived. Jane doesn’t own a car and is afraid to drive, so she must rely on friends or pay taxi drivers to get her to and from her cashier job.
Soon after moving to the shelter, Jane had to be hospitalized and have surgery to correct a serious health problem. She went right back to work, without much time to recover. Jane is often sick with one cold after another, but tries not to miss her shifts at the truck stop. A multidenominational group of Christians that helps mothers become successful on their own helped Jane find an affordable apartment, blessed her new home in a ceremony, put up blinds over the windows, and brought her a sofa, kitchen table, and chairs.
Celia arranged for a volunteer, Joe, also from church to set up my brother’s bunk beds in Jane’s children’s room. Jane’s clothing and other belongings are now put away in my parents’ matching chests of drawers. Her sons’ games and toys are now neatly organized in the large cabinet I used as a child. She pays her bills at the desk where I once did my homework as she sits in my office chair. And the mirror I used in high school is now hanging on her bedroom wall.
As the movers brought her these things we don’t need, I talked with Jane and saw in her a personable young woman just as capable as I am. She’s just had more than her share of challenges lately and doesn’t have the huge family support network I have. That’s why she has temporarily needed me and my mom, Celia, Becky, and Joe from church, her mentors from the Christian group, and the chaplain and social worker at the homeless shelter. There are lots of people helping Jane behind the scenes too. Becky, for example, is a woman who pays her maintenance men to move furniture donations, while another man, Giles, allows our church to store donated furniture in three of his storage units until it’s needed.
Mom and I are so happy we could lighten Jane’s load a little. Joe is planning to take Jane’s children to the local planetarium and some other fun places. Celia is taking them to Sunday school, children’s church, and then Burger King each Sunday while Jane works. It’s inspiring to look at all the ways that, for many years, my friends Celia and Becky have been letting God work through them to help struggling families like Jane’s.
“I’ve met really nice, wonderful people—dear people whom I just love,” said Celia. “They’ve just had a hard time. In many cases, women are trying to escape a bad marital situation. I’ve seen a lot of abuse, marriage breakups, and health problems. Some have been on drugs, and it’s hard to get into a drug rehabilitation program. Space is limited.”
Each time a new family moves into the homeless shelter apartment, Celia and Becky give them a laundry basket filled with toiletries, office supplies, and cleaning supplies. That’s all that the shelter asks our church to do. But Celia and Becky see the need to do much more. They inspire the congregation to supply any linens and kitchen items families are lacking, and weekly bring families fresh fruit and vegetables.
When families move out of the shelter apartment, Celia and Becky find out what they need as they set up their new home and report those needs in the weekly church bulletin. My mother’s old television went to one family, and my upholstered living room furniture and bookcases went to others. “It is so important to have the church involved in this outreach ministry. Becky and I just do the organizing, the delivery, the friendship, and many prayers,” said Celia.
I asked Celia how she keeps from getting stressed and overwhelmed by all the problems of the families she and Becky are helping. “We always pray before we go to visit families, and we pray with people whenever it works out,” said Celia. “As we become friends, we turn our problems over to the Lord,” answered Celia. “I think the Lord is in this, and if we can help in any way, I want God to use me. I give God the glory. God has answered my prayers, and I’m thankful for God’s guidance.”
If you have comments, questions, or would like to be in touch with the writer. Lauree Purcell, just send to me: MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.