The single mother of three has grown weary.
Weary of living in her car, weary of scraping meals together, weary of dead-end jobs.
So she turns to Mary & Martha House, a Ruskin shelter for women and children in crisis whether due to domestic violence or financial woes.
Such tales of hardship inspire Jan Falcione in her role as community resource manager for Mary & Martha House. After serving on the board for several years, Falcione joined the staff in April and strives to continue the nonprofit's 26 years of service.
Over lunch at Little Harbor's Sunset Grill, we talked about her role with the charity and the importance of the shelter's thrift store.
ERNEST: The old joke goes that for an eggs-and-bacon breakfast, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Going from board member to staff, it sounds like you're committed.
JAN: I love that joke. I liked the people. I liked the fact that we were small, only four people, and I just got involved with a lot of the fundraising from there. When you decide to help, you're either going to be involved or you're going to be committed.
How great is the need for a facility like yours?
The need out there is incredible. Originally, the primary target was victims of domestic violence, but now a lot of it is economic. How many people are one or two paychecks away from
being homeless? It's heartbreaking because we're a small facility and we want to help as much as we can, but now we have to refer people to other organizations. In the past few months, we're getting 10 to 12 calls a day.
Of the many services you offer — shelter, clothing, food, job counseling — you list self-esteem. Tell me about delivering self-esteem.
Let's face it, when people come to us from living in their car, that's about as low as you can feel. One of the things we do, through the thrift store, is we let the ladies come in and shop. How great is that on a very simple level? If you haven't been able to shop for yourself for years and now you have this whole wide place open to you? We also make our homes very much like a home. Our clients are our guests.
So the need is greater because of the economic downturn, and at the same time it must be more difficult to get support.
The people in southeast Hillsborough County are incredibly generous to us. My vision is to go outside the community because you can't just keep tapping the same people and the same organizations. That's why we're trying to get a broader scope into Brandon and even Sarasota. On the thrift store side of it, the quality of the donations and goods we get are incredible because of where we are. And it's sad to say, but the tougher the economy gets, the more people shop at the thrift store.
Why do you think the South Shore residents are so generous?
I have to go back to the person who started this, Priscilla Mixon. She's just the most down-to-earth person you would ever want to meet. We do the Taste of South Shore as a fundraiser, and when I was first on the board I went to these restaurants. They would say, "Who is this for?" I would say, "Mary & Martha House" and they would say, "Oh okay, how much do you want? Tell me what you want." She's just made it easy to like our organization and I think that's one of the things that drew me here. It's an organization that everybody knows and everybody loves.
What are the biggest challenges at Mary & Martha House?
Certainly you're always looking at the revenue sources and making sure they don't dry up. You have to look at everything you do. The community looks at you in a certain way. It's just so much more all consuming. Possibly, the biggest challenge is making sure the community is aware of what you're doing and getting them involved. This isn't always about asking them for money. As much as we need the money, we need the hands in there. On Saturday, a group from M&I Bank came and cleaned all of our property, did weed whacking.
Is it daunting asking people for support?
Of course you find it daunting, but that's why I think getting people involved in the organization is the big key. Then you're not asking them for the donation, you're asking them to be involved. When people are involved in the organization, they have ownership of it and it becomes an important part of their life to plan on what they will do for the Mary & Martha House. We don't need any more chickens. We need a lot more pigs.
DESSERT: A postscript from Ernest
Before joining Mary & Martha House, Jan had a clothing shop in Sun City Center. In terms of a wish list, the center would love to upgrade its Web site and attain the help of more volunteers — such as a retired drug counselor — who may be living in the area. "We're always thankful for generosity because the need is always there, but what talent can you bring to us?" To visit the thrift store or volunteer for the Mary & Martha House, call 813-645-7874.
Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 226-3406.