Leah Greenaway and Debbie Speh, two devoted volunteers who now run our brand-new House Springs location, originally got connected to Helping Hand Me Downs through their parish and one of our amazing outreach partners, The Crossing church. The Crossing frequently brings groups of members to our locations as volunteers, which is how Debbie and Leah originally began their journey with us.
They started coming in together once a month to volunteer, helping gather and sort donation items to redistribute for families. Their responsibilities continued to grow alongside their enthusiasm, and soon enough they began coming in once a week, instead of once a month. “Then it was two times per week,” says Leah, who lives in House Springs. Debbie lives in High Ridge, the next town over, and both recognized the need for a Helping Hand Me Downs location in their community. Thanks to their availability, timing and the perfect location, we were able to open the House Springs location, set to open officially on December 1, 2018. Keep reading to learn more about Debbie, Leah and the new location.
What led you to jump into nonprofit work with Helping Hand Me Downs?
Leah: Helping families in need has always been a really deep desire for both of us. Then of course, meeting the people—not just the clients who come in, but the people who run the organization, like Stephanie, Kim and Monica. We’ve all gotten to know each other really well, and they’re wonderful ladies. The most moving part about it is meeting the families and helping them find the things that we need. There are several questions we need to ask them before they can pick up their items, and their answers really tug at your heartstrings. I often get teary-eyed.
Debbie: When we started, I don’t think I completely understood the whole complexity of it. Like Leah said, some of the questions we need to ask are difficult. At that point, you realize how good you have it. The people who come in who have very little are so appreciative of what we’re able to give them. They might come in to pick up a bag of clothes for their newborn, and if we have a crib or a car seat or something like that we can offer them, we’ll give them that as well. And they’ll say, “Are you sure? For free?” It’s a really amazing feeling to be able to do that for someone else.
One of the strongest parts of the program is that clients have access to so much more than just clothing and items for raising children. Having worked closely with the families, how do you think that has impacted them?
Debbie: It’s true that there’s so much more to it than handing out bags of clothes and supplies. There’s a really strong community that has formed around doing this work. For families who need it, we can help them find employment or housing, and there are even opportunities for mothers who have been through the program to come back and volunteer. Their experience is incredibly valuable. Monica Wade, who now runs the Pagedale office, is a perfect example. She’s a mother of three young girls who had no support, and now she’s a full-time employee. We’ve seen a lot of stories like that play out: where the women return and give back to the program.
Leah: It’s also really promising to see how willing people are to help themselves. I don’t think I ever fully realized how difficult it is for some families out there, just to get by. Seeing the need is really eye-opening. And the satisfying part is that we can help them, then watch them come back and help others. It’s an amazing thing to watch a parent leave us knowing she has what she needs to take care of her children, whether it’s diapers, formula or a carseat and everything in between.
The nonprofit world is full of organizations that are well-intentioned, but don’t always have the desired impact. In your experience, how do you think Helping Hand Me Downs different?
Leah: First of all, we have to remember that it really takes a lot for a mom to come in and ask for help. So the first thing we try to do is create an environment where they’re not going to be judged, and help them feel good about doing the right thing in order to provide for their children.
Debbie: Mothers have a powerful instinct to provide for their children—and when they can’t, it’s horrible. It’s the worst feeling. But we can help them provide. And if they need additional help, like buying food, securing a job or housing, we can work within our networks to get them that assistance, or we can refer them to another organization. There are a lot of really great organizations that want to help and are doing an amazing job, so we don’t try to do everything by ourselves.
Helping Hand Me Downs House Springs officially opens December 1. Donation drop-off times are Monday through Friday from 9am to 12pm.