Thursday, July 01, 2004

Press - The Star, June 17 2004 - Facing the world alone

Organization helps single mothers battle loneliness; provides funds

By Jodi Bodner DuBow

Five women, each with their own painful story, each there to raise the
awareness of a rather new grassroots effort to help single mothers raising
children alone, addressed a small crowd at the Young Israel of Woodmere on
Saturday afternoon.

There to represent MARCH, Mothers Alone Raising Children, they spoke of
the "silent crisis" that is invading a growing number of families in the
Orthodox community. It was the organization's first public forum.
Shabbos is the hardest time," said Devora, who asked that the audience
look out for, and embrace these families. "I would love it if someone offered to
take my three boys to shul and show them how to daven," she said. "They have
stopped wanting to go; they have no one to sit with."
"One of the biggest adjustments after my divorce," said Tanya, "was
having no one to wait for after shul. "I felt lost. Inviting us to a Shabbos
meal would go a long way."

MARCH was founded about three years ago when one man started dating and
uncovered the despair and desolation felt by the single mother. Anonymously,
he opened a PO Box and began sending money to one or two single mothers. "One
became five, which became 25," said Briendy, a key volunteer, "and today we
help between 500-550 single mothers and their children." About 60 live in the Far
Rockaway/Five Towns vicinity. Most are the products of divorce; some are
widows. Families average between 3-4 children.

Existing purely through the help and efforts of anonymous volunteers
(MARCH has no paid employees) MARCH provides monthly stipends; a monthly
newsletter called "the Chizuk Newsletter" to offer encouragement and
support; help with attaining scholarships for school and summer camp; pre-paid calling cards,
all donated by IDT; fully donated costume jewelry and even sometimes real
jewelry that helps the woman feel prized. Additionally, they prepare and
send gift baskets filled with nosh, toys and holiday cheer for Chanukah, Purim and
Pesach, hold a twice yearly social event and have begun a furniture exchange
that provides much needed furniture in decent condition to some of the families.

The symposium, which followed a morning lecture delivered by Esther
Englard, herself the product of a similar set of scary and often dire
circumstances, elicited response from the audience. One manufacturer came
forward with the donation of 500 children's bathing suits, yet another offered her time, still another a suggestion: why not start a hotline so women could call in their needs?



MARCH is working on a Support Shabbos for mothers designed to motivate
and inspire, day trips sponsored by donors, and a website to connect
volunteers and play host to a chat room.

All suggestions were welcome; all require money. Stressing that the goal
is to help these women maintain their dignity, Briendy implored that funds
are essential. "When we get a couch donated, it costs us money to pick up and
deliver," she explained. "Even though we get all the items for the gift boxes donated or at the cheapest rate possible, we still have to ship or deliver it.
Never, ever think giving money is not creative enough."

Indeed, making ends meet was an overriding concern for Frumie, Leah,
Devorah, Tanya, and Chaya Sarah, though they all presented nicely groomed
for Shabbos. "I'm nervous about how I'm going to pay for my daughter's college
education," said Tanya, who has a 12-year-old girl.

"I'm often faced with missing work because one of my kids is sick, said
Devorah. "I know it means less money but what should I do?"
But more than anything, it was the sense of aloneness that permeates
their situations, sometime logistically and sometimes emotionally.
"It may sound silly," said Devorah, "but if I go to a bar mitzvah or a
wedding and hire a babysitter to watch my kids, figuring out how to get that
babysitter home at the end of the night, is hard. My kids are too young to
leave."

"I often wonder if anyone misses me if I'm away for the weekend or even
thinks about me," said Leah. "So when I got the Purim box, opened it up and
saw that month's newsletter, goodies for all the kids and a scarf for me, I felt
special, I felt loved."

To volunteer, or for services, email mothersalone@aol.com or call (212)-
696-5978.

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