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Dover nonprofit provides home furnishings for migrant workers

DOVER

It took 10 years for the Campos family to save enough money from their wages working on farms in east Hillsborough to purchase their own home. ¶ The modest-but-immaculate concrete block home on Blackjack Road in Dover is the fruit of Jose and Yolanda Campos' hard work. ¶ Eight months into their move, Yolanda Campos decorated the home as best she could. But, with all their funds going toward the down payment, there is no money for furniture.

The family of five eats meals standing at the kitchen island, watches TV sitting on hard wooden chairs and sleeps on blankets on the floor.

The Campos' predicament is the reason San Jose Home Makers exists. Founded in 2009, the nonprofit group provides furnishings to farmworkers moving into their first homes in east and south Hillsborough County. They also help migrants who live in apartments at Dover's San Jose Mission, an outreach of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

"Many of these people have been traveling around the country, and their only belongings are what they can carry," said Pam Stamey, the group's co-founder. "When we find them, they're sleeping on old moving blankets. We provide them with their first beds, sheets, couches, dishes, everything you'd need to set up your new home."

Earlier this week, Catholic Charities recognized the group's efforts with its Angel Award. Catholic Charities gives the award to individuals or groups who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their ministries to support the community, according to diocesan spokesman Frank Murphy.

"The San Jose Home Makers is a wonderful ministry," Murphy said. "We couldn't do the things we do in the community without their help. They're a great group of people doing great work."

A few months ago, the San Jose Home Makers made a delivery at the Campos' home. They brought a couch, a sofa and beds.

"My dad didn't have enough money for furniture so getting this means a lot to us," said Juan Campos, 16.

In Juan's bedroom, volunteers replaced the blankets on the floor with a twin bed. Then came fresh sheets and a comforter.

Before the night ends, the Home Makers visit two more homes, providing beds for four people who have been sleeping on blankets or air mattresses.

"It brings me to tears every time," volunteer Susie DeCort said. "It never ceases to amaze me in this day and time how people live with so little and yet still manage to smile."

• • •

The San Jose Home Makers, an all-volunteer group, is the brainchild of Stamey and her friend Heidi Smith.

Stamey, a homemaker, had been providing underwear for impoverished schoolchildren through a ministry at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico when she learned about the migrant workers' needs.

"One of the schools told me about a family that needed beds, a mom with four children at the San Jose Mission," said Stamey, who enlisted Smith to help her find beds for the family and furnish the family's apartment.

Once the two women completed their task for that family, outfitting the apartment with donated goods, mission officials told them about 12 more families that needed beds.

"That was Dec. 6," Stamey said. "Our goal was to get everyone off the floor by Christmas, and we did it, delivering 36 beds."

Before they knew it, Stamey and Smith, an office manager, had stumbled upon a calling. The mission gave them use of a convent house to store furniture. They put out word that they needed donations, and calls poured in.

The pair began recruiting volunteers from St. Stephen Catholic Church. The group, which officially formed under the name San Jose Home Makers in April 2009, has about 20 volunteers that meet each Wednesday morning to pick up and sort items. They make deliveries on Wednesday evenings.

When the earthquake occurred in Haiti, the diocese brought 60 Haitian families to Tampa Bay and set them up in apartments. The San Jose Home Makers furnished those apartments in three days.

The group recently furnished 80 transitional apartments at Pinellas Hope, a tent city run by the diocese in Pinellas Park.

"I can't believe how generous people are," DeCort, the volunteer, said. "It's like the Bible story of the loaves and fishes. When we're down, beds just appear."

That's not to say that the volunteers don't have standards. Stamey, the group's co-founder, decorates rooms as if she were furnishing her own home. She tries to coordinate throw pillows with comforter sets and match knobs with linens.

"If you wouldn't want it in your own home, we won't have it," Stamey said. "We won't give people junk. … We want to walk into an apartment and feel as if we could live there."

Alma Longoria is happy about that. Her 10-year-old daughter received a white laminate bed and matching shelf unit.

Up until then, the only bed in the house was a bunk bed for Longoria's two sons, ages 1 and 3. Now, everyone has their own bed, including Longoria and her husband who had been sleeping on air mattresses. The family also received a couch, kitchen table and chairs and toys.

"Now that we have furniture, it really feels like home," Longoria said. "We're very grateful."

D'Ann White can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

fast facts

To help out

To volunteer or to donate items to the San Jose Home Makers, contact Heidi Smith at (813) 842-1872.

Dover nonprofit provides home furnishings for migrant workers 08/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 3:33pm]

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