SOUTHERN OCEAN – This past Easter, Family Promise of Southern Ocean donated over 300 Easter baskets to homeless families with their first ever Easter Basket Drive.
Family Promise of Southern Ocean works with volunteers from faith and community-based organizations in Southern Ocean County to “coordinate efforts in providing a safe and welcoming environment, temporary shelter, meals and supportive services to empower families with children under the age of 18 to move steadily toward self-sufficiency.”
Heather Johann, the Development & Communications Manager of Family Promise of Southern Ocean, explained how many families in the area are turned away from other programs even though they are homeless.
“It started as a way to shelter homeless families with children. Pre-COVID, homeless families were accepted into our program. They’re families who’ve probably been turned away from every other program in the area. They either make too much money or there’s something that’s preventing them to be a part of social services, to be a part of other programs in the area. But they still are homeless for a variety of reasons,” Johann said. “They must be able to show that there’s a willingness to change their situation. They have to be able to work with our case manager within the program to show a willingness to change. Once they’re accepted into our shelter program, pre-COVID they were being housed in churches that were participating in our program and they would sleep there a week at a time. If they didn’t have work or school to go to, they would come to our day center. The day center is a home where there’s a play center, laundry room, kitchen, stocked with food through donations. This will happen until we can get the family into permanent housing.”
With the pandemic still continuing, the past year Family Promise of Southern Ocean have spent thousands of dollars trying to house families in need and keep them safe during these tough times.
“Once COVID struck, all of our congregations shut down. We went from having very low costs to currently paying $2,000 a month in rent, whether that’s for motels or condos or things like that to house our families. We went from maybe a couple hundred dollars a month to $2,000 per family,” Johann said. “Fall 2020 we launched a prevention program. Families with financial crisis. Many who were affected by the shutdowns from the pandemic. Most people in this area, the rent is around $2,000. We spent – just in 2021 – for preventions shelter over $80,000.”
Johann explained how they not only house families in need, but also provide programs to help them get out of their financial situations.
“How we’re different from other programs is that not only do we provide housing, but the funds we raise also go to programs that help these families get to the next level,” Johann said. “One family we had in our program, she was a local teacher and a single mom. She went from not being able to pay her rent, to working with our case management who were able to help her and now she’s getting paid $35 an hour and now able to provide for her family. It’s not just providing shelter, the programing is a big part, so that they can get out of their situation and do better without constantly seeking help.”
Currently, Family Promise of Southern Ocean has over 100 people in the program, over 110 families in prevention, and then at any time 14 families in shelters. This year was the first year they held their Easter Basket Drive, which turned out to be a complete success.
“I really thought we would end up with about 20 to 25 baskets. We distributed over 300 within the community, both to people in our programs and also reached out to school districts, for kids that maybe didn’t know our program existed,” Johann said. “We were able to give those baskets to families and also talk about family promise and bring them into our program to help them with their financial needs.”
Many residents through the community either donated supplies for Family Promise to make baskets, or donated entirely pre-made Easter baskets.
“We had a mixture of people who donated supplies to make baskets, whether it was candy, eggs, sidewalk chalk, anything you can imagine that would go into an Easter basket. Then we also had a significant amount who donated fully made baskets,” Johann said. “Some children made baskets, the Women’s Club of Green Briar, they did a mix of pre-made baskets and materials. They donated about 150 baskets. Since we had so many more materials, we reached out to the First Presbyterian Church in Tuckerton and brought over all the supplies we had and they put together additional baskets.”
As for future events, Family Promise had their “Giving Day” to raise funds and promote awareness of local homeless families. They also hold family drives, diaper drives and plan on having a back-to-school drive to collect supplies and funds for homeless kids attending school.
To keep updated on events, to donate or to learn more about the Family Promise of Southern Ocean, visit their website at familypromisesoc.org.