Jan DeLuc, 91, loves volunteering with Family Promise of Gainesville, a nonprofit that mobilizes local resources to help homeless families.
This year was DeLuc’s third year of volunteering in the Bed Race, one of Family Promise’s premier fundraising events. The event has several teams racing down a track pushing beds on wheels, which is symbolic for the many homeless families who often have to travel to find a place to sleep for the night.
“I just feel like it’s such a useful thing in the community,” DeLuc said. “Some of the churches here, we are housing families until we can find homes for them and for me that is the most important because it only takes care of children and families. Children are our future.
Volunteers like DeLuc are the driving force behind the assistance programs that Family Promise provides. But the organization is struggling to recruit new volunteers as area shelters prepare to reopen in May. This is when Family Promise will need people to bring meals to the facility, serve as evening or overnight hosts, set up the shelter, and help with fundraising drives and special events.
“We really need our volunteers back because right now we only have eight out of 13 weeks covered by volunteers to help these families,” said general manager Jayne Moraski. “We need these volunteers to help support our families during this time.”
Family Promise is looking for individual volunteers and volunteer groups of up to five people who can work together.
The organization has a schedule of where families in need will go to connect volunteers with those people. People who want to volunteer should tell Family Promise where they live in Gainesville and list the days and times they are available, Moraski said. If a volunteer lives on the east side, Family Promise can send them on a day when they are available to help families with things like carrying beds upstairs to a church.
Volunteers can provide meals or donate gently used furniture or household items, Moraski said.
The Family Promise of Gainesville, which was founded in 1998, organizes fundraisers like the Bed Race to support shelters, Moraski said. The organization works with more than 30 different religious and civic groups to provide shelter for at least four families at a time. Family Promise has helped over 3,000 families get back on their feet since its inception. Ninety-five percent of the families the group helped find housing in 2021 kept their own apartment or house without losing their home again.
“We’ve gone from one staff member, which is me, to seven now and we’ve added so many different options,” Moraski said. “Our goal is to find as many different ways as possible to help families experiencing homelessness.”
More than 700 public school children in Alachua County are homeless, Moraski said. Homeless children are nine times more likely to fall behind in school.
“Going to school while you’re homeless is a tough thing for a family to deal with,” said fundraising and events team member Linda Meling. “In terms of community impact and the fact that it’s a small program, raising awareness can be tough, which is why we have our big events like the Bed Race.”
The organization helps homeless families in particular by providing them with shelter, furniture, food, childcare vouchers and clothing. It also offers families one-time rental assistance for a month or two.
The $28,474 raised during the Bed Race in February will cover the cost of shelters and case management for shelters, coordinating meals for all families and providing furniture for everyone coming out of the shelter, Moraski said. . This year the group also held a 4x4x48 Challenge fundraiser, in which people were challenged to run around two marathons – four miles every four hours for 48 hours. He raised $3,310.
“If you’re a runner, you know that’s not something a lot of people do,” Moraski said. “So the people who participate are trying to get people to support them at least $1 per mile as they go those 48 miles.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic has created more complex issues. Families had to be housed in hotels and apartments instead of churches and interfaith organizations, which Family Promise paid for. The group also lost $34,000 in volunteer resources throughout the ordeal.
Despite funding challenges, the organization continues to run its programs, including Connect to Work, which identifies barriers preventing parents from getting to work.
“It’s simple things like, ‘I need a pair of black non-slip shoes to do this job.’ OK, $27, we got you so you could get your job,” Moraski said. “Or more complex things like a CNA (Certified Practical Nurse) license, which is about $500; we helped pay for a part of that.
There are many circumstances that can cause a family to need Family Promise and the resources it provides, Moraski said. Most of the people the organization helps are families who live in their cars with children under 18.
“Lately with COVID, it can be very simple,” Moraski said. “They’re going to lose their house because they couldn’t go to work because they had to self-quarantine. So it’s been really traumatic for families over the last two years, but that’s the kind of scenario of families that we would help.
Families may also need help if they receive seven days’ notice, if they have heavy mold in their home, or if their car is damaged. Family Promise aims to help them with their bills while they get back on their feet.
“Anyone who’s somewhere that’s not safe or where they really shouldn’t live as human habitation is the one we’re helping,” Moraski said.
The housing provided is intended to be a temporary 90-day program, Meling said.
“If they need more help, they can come back and get more case management and support,” Meling said. “Usually the homeless families we work with, it’s something that happened quickly and they don’t know what to do or where to go, but they just want their children to be safe and have a normal life.”
Melissa Keefer, a member of Meizon Mission Church, has volunteered with Family Promise for seven years. She keeps coming back because she says she knows it makes a difference in the community.
“I think it’s so fantastic to find an organization that meets people’s short-term and long-term needs,” Keefer said. “A lot of organizations help you out right away or try to help you get better in the long run, but I think Family Promise does a great job of doing both.”
Family Promise focuses a lot on families with children so that poverty and homelessness can stop being generational.
“If you’re a kid and you don’t have a safe place to live, how are you supposed to do your homework? How do you plan to get to school every day? Keefer said. “Even if you hop from apartment to apartment, you may have to change schools often. Families experiencing homelessness really end up having the cards against them.
The organization tries to get to the root of the problem that every family faces to help them overcome their difficulties and provide children with a safe space to socialize and achieve academic success.
“I think it’s a really good way to interrupt that generational pattern that can develop and make sure people can be in the right place where they can thrive like the rest of us,” Keefer said.
Family Promise is about the community helping each other and showing empathy for people’s situations.
“It’s not a helping hand, it’s a helping hand,” Moraski said. “I think if people knew that homeless people aren’t that far away from us or are at a health crisis from homelessness, I think they would be more willing to support their neighbors.”