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Clearwater charity working to fill wish lists by Christmas

CLEARWATER — The idea came to Andrea Clark when she was daydreaming about winning the lottery.

If she had a million dollars, she thought, no single mother in her community would have to struggle the way she had raising four kids by herself.

Then Clark began reflecting on all the ways she and her friends helped each other get by over the years — the way they'd search for buy-one-get-one deals at grocery stores and share the free products, the way she always knew how to stretch $10 at the Family Dollar.

Even without a jackpot, Clark realized there were ways to give back and families that needed help now.

So in fall of 2014, Clark launched Mothers of Minors, or MOM, a nonprofit aimed at helping single parents struggling to get by.

Based in Clearwater, MOM threw a community baby shower in July, where 44 young women received essential newborn supplies they may otherwise have not been able to afford. It was also a way to pamper women who rarely are treated to feel special, Clark said.

On Sunday, MOM will host its second community event, Christmas for the Kids, which is working to fill the Christmas wish lists of 150 children.

"When there are days where you have to figure out whether to pay a certain bill or put food on the table, it can be hard for families," Clark said.

So far, MOM has raised enough to fill 91 of the 150 requests. Each child requested a handful of items their parents are not able to provide, and some highlight the severe need in the community, said Karena Bowers Morrison, MOM community outreach liaison.

While some children asked for bikes, makeup or action figures, others simply want their own bedsheets.

"I was really in tears reading some of these wishes," Bowers Morrison said.

Clark said the organization has depended on donations by individuals and businesses to sponsor families and has collected just $2,500 over the year. Besides the two community events, MOM has also helped mothers on the verge of desperation.

When a local mother was $50 short on rent, even after pawning whatever she could find around the house, MOM stepped in to fill the gap. When an elderly grandmother had to take custody of two grandchildren unexpectedly, MOM supported her with a Walmart gift card to buy the necessities.

"We're just trying to make a difference," Clark said. "It's just in my DNA to do this."

Although Clark's four children are now adults, she took custody of her goddaughter last year, bringing her back to single-mother status.

Even on her single-income from her job with Bright House, Clark donates $200 of her own money a month to the cause. Bowers Morrison, a married mother of two, said she and Clark often work late into the night trying to recruit donors and locate needy families.

They network with churches, community organizations and schools to identify families in need — and many encounter severe poverty, Clark said.

Their goal is to grow the organization enough to help children all across Tampa Bay throughout the year. But the focus now is to ensure no child who has asked for help from MOM is disappointed this Christmas.

"So many children need us," Clark said. "There are so many that go without."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

.Fast facts

How to help

There are 59 needy children with Christmas wish lists still not filled.

View the wish lists and donate items or money by visiting momincfl.org; email Andrea Clark at events@momincfl.org; or visit Florida Citrus Country at 301 S Belcher Road, where a giving tree lists names and wishes of 40 children.

Clearwater charity working to fill wish lists by Christmas 12/17/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2015 12:31pm]
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