On October 6th, 2016 Marsha quietly asked her youngest son to clean up the toys he just received for his third birthday—it was time for bed. He put his Tonka Truck neatly under his bed but snuck a few Matchbox Cars underneath his pillow to play with when his mom left the room.  Marsha kissed her son goodnight.  That was the last time either of them would see any of his birthday presents.

That night, at the vacant house next door, a vagrant lit a candle to stay warm and fell asleep.  The vacant and dilapidated house caught fire, burning Marsha’s home and all their belongings to the ground.  Luckily, no one was seriously injured—but they lost all of their physical possessions: toys melted, mattresses combusted in a fiery blaze, and all sense of home disappeared.

Marsha and her three children (a 14 year old daughter and 3- and 7-year-old sons) were now homeless.

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Several organizations, including the Red Cross, came to their immediate help.  The family was put up in a hotel for four nights and provided a small stipend for necessities.  But they hit a roadblock when Social Services denied Marsha’s request for assistance because she was employed as a Certified Nursing Assistant.  However, dealing with ramifications from the fire, Marsha was unable to fulfill her duties as as a Certified Nursing Assistant and was let go--less than a week after the fire.   Homeless and jobless, Marsha went back to the Social Services department.  Once again she was denied support.

Marsha turned to her sister for help but her sister had limited space--only enough for Marsha and her two boys.  Her daughter--a student at International High School and a member of New Jersey Community Development’s (NJCDC) Great Falls Teen Center--moved in with her grandmother in Newark.  She commuted from Newark to Paterson every day to attend school.

For two months the family didn’t have a permanent place to call home, and they weren’t able to all live together.  It was the hardest two months of their lives.

In early December--after two months without a home--Marsha and her family received Section 8 housing.  Marsha’s family and friends gave what they can to help their new apartment feel like a home but there are still things they need.

Right after they moved into their new home, Marsha’s  youngest son’s preschool teacher introduced her to NJCDC’s Neighborhood Help Center (NHC), community space open to Great Falls Promise Neighborhood residents, offering resources and information on relevant issues including housing, immigration, job readiness, educational opportunities, financial literacy, and more.  The Director of the NHC connected Marsha to NJCDC’s Annual Holiday Party. If nothing else, Marsha wanted Christmas to be magical for her kids.

NJCDC’s mission is to create opportunities to transform lives and during the holiday season they host a large toy drive and Christmas party to make sure every child in their community has a charmed Christmas. In 2016, NJCDC looks to give away more than 6,000 toys to more than 1,200 children.  Marsha made sure her three children were among those 1,200. 

Marsha contacted a member of NJCDC’s staff to sign-up for the Christmas Party and told them of her misfortune.  Since Marsha hasn’t started a new job yet, she was worried about Christmas.  Could she afford one or two small gifts for each of her children?  How could she explain Santa’s absence?  But luckily this is one concern that has been settled.  Marsha and her children will be attending NJCDC’s Annual Holiday Party on Christmas Eve, where donated toys and clothing are given to thousands of Paterson children in need.  With a DJ, a bouncy house, arts and crafts, and clothing and presents, Marsha knows her children will still have smiles on their faces this Christmas.

And by the time she had registered for the Christmas Party, she was put in contact with NJCDC’s Full Service Community School 5 who was in the midst of a coat drive--the toys could wait until December 25th but the clothing need was urgent.  The next day, all three of her children were provided winter coats and other outerwear.

Marsha is extremely grateful for NJCDC and stays in contact but her and her family’s needs are still great.

If you or anyone you know is willing to provide assistance, here are some of the things they asked for, for Christmas:

  • Children’s books
  • Clothing for Marsha’s 7-year-old son (size 7/8 in jeans and a medium in shirts)
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Dishes
  • Linens
  • Furniture, especially couches
  • Computer

Marsha’s children, who lost all of their toys, do have a few special requests if you’d like to make those Christmas smiles even bigger.  At the top of their list are gaming systems, an electric scooter, a hoverboard, and a Nerf gun.

Of course, the thing Marsha most desires, a job as a certified nursing assistant, is the one thing that will be the hardest to obtain, since finding a job always requires time, and a bit of luck.

If you would like to help Marsha and her children in any way, please contact Seth Friedman at 973-413-1588 or sfriedman@njcdc.org.  Marsha and her family will be grateful for ANY help you can provide as they recover from this difficult time.