This Christmas, Cynthia Clark and her children – four boys and one girl, ages 14, 11, 10, 8 and 6 – will awake to find a stocking for each child, hung by the fireplace with care.
There will be presents under the twinkling Christmas tree and a holiday meal with all the trimmings.
The single mom says she couldn’t have made it happen without the help of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Augusta.
“I’ve really been blessed this year,” said Clark, a technician at Aiken Regional Medical Centers.
Five months ago, she and her kids were homeless.
“I had lost my job last July. I worked in a plasma center for two years. I was on unemployment, but everybody knows unemployment doesn’t cover everything,” she said.
When the power was turned off, they bounced from friend to friend. Every day, Clark called local agencies looking for help.
“For a family of my size, no one had room,” she said.
Interfaith Hospitality, she learned, operates a rotating shelter program through local churches. Local churches volunteer to play host to and feed families for one week at a time, four times a year.
The goal? Helping homeless families achieve lasting independence, said Sarah MacDonald, the director of Interfaith.
By August, Clark and her kids were in. They, along with two other Interfaith families, spent two months sleeping on fold-out beds in Sunday school classrooms and vacant rooms.
By October, the Clarks moved out of the shelter program into one of Interfaith’s transitional houses, where they’ll spend Christmas this year.
Interfaith families can live in transitional housing, rent free, for up to two years.
“We got in right before the holidays. Yay,” she said. “It was a goal of mine. I really wanted the children to be in their own home for the holidays.”
The three families in Interfaith’s shelter program will spend their Christmas at Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta.
Lauren and Steve Williams, Trinity on the Hill’s Interfaith coordinators, rally 100 volunteers to help make Christmas special for those three families.
Sunday school classes in the basement are transforming classrooms into Christmas homes. Trees are going up in each “bedroom” and “living room,” while volunteers shop for gifts for each of the parents.
Gifts for the children, however, will be purchased by the parents with money donated to the family.
“It’s hard to be a teenager and be homeless,” Lauren Williams said. “They move every week. They carry everything with them in a big plastic tub. By providing some money for moms to shop with for their own kids, they’re able to treat them to something they’ll need and enjoy.”
On Christmas Eve, the hosts at Trinity and Interfaith’s families share a holiday meal.
Families such as the Clarks will enjoy a Christmas dinner, thanks to the gifts of other churches, including Historic Hosanna Missionary Baptist.
The congregation of 35 on Ellis Street packs dinner boxes for the families in Interfaith’s transitional houses. Each family gets a basket containing a ham or turkey, sides, staples, Bibles and a DVD of church services.
“We want these families to have a full Christmas,” the Rev. Jeff Moffett said, “the kind of Christmas they’d have at home.”