BROOKSVILLE — When Michelle Grady attended a banquet for widows at her church last March, she felt moved to act on an idea she'd been thinking about for months.
Grady was widowed in the fall of 2008. Her husband, Andy, was killed by a car in Hudson, where he was working on a job for his air-conditioning business. Losing her life partner and her only source of income, Grady, who was five months pregnant, soon learned of the financial hardships faced by many young widows.
Grady had been working on her degree when she became pregnant. She quit school after getting an associate's degree at Pasco-Hernando Community College to concentrate on motherhood. Then tragedy struck.
"I had to wait until after my daughter was born, and then I got Social Security survivor benefits," Grady said. "But there were times, and still are, that it doesn't provide me enough money to pay all my bills every month."
Grady had a yard sale to raise some funds.
"Then I found out if you go to the flea market in Hudson on the weekend, it was only $4 to sell things outside," she said. "My mom was giving me things from her house to sell, and a couple from my parents' church was giving me things to sell. Then my hairdresser gave me things to sell. The next thing I know, I had all this stuff."
The time was right to put her idea to work.
Grady was attending the Church of God of Prophecy, the church she and her husband had decided to attend just the week before his death.
The church had been very supportive and helpful to her and her daughter, Alexis, so after the banquet, she approached the new pastors, Jerry and Karen Dotson, with her idea of setting up a Widows Benefit Market.
"They thought it was wonderful and wanted to get started," Grady said.
The market opened for business last August with the purpose of making money through the sale of donated items to assist widows and their minor children in the church and community.
Depending on the widow's situation and need, assistance is given for food, utility bills, home repairs and child needs.
Along with church member Karin Marrero, Grady runs the market from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays each month, or whichever weeks the church fellowship hall is available. A posted sign lets customers know when the market will be open, as does the church website, brooksvillechurch.com.
All money from items donated to the market goes to help widows, Grady said.
Recently, Grady decided to make the Widows Benefit Banquet an annual event and fundraiser as well. This year's will be March 5.
"This year we're planning to step it up a bit," she said.
There will be raffles for gift baskets and a silent auction to raise money for the widows fund.
"Our plan is to open the doors at 3:30 p.m., have the silent auction from 4 to 5, dinner and desserts from 5 to 6, and then there will be gifts, testimonies and recognitions," Grady said.
There is no cost to attend, and widows, widowers and those interested in the ministry are welcome.
"We are looking for donations from individuals or businesses toward the food, silent auction and widow gift baskets," Grady said.
She is also hoping to receive donations of items for the Widows Benefit Market, along with cash donations and volunteer workers.
Vendors are welcome to set up a table at a cost of $5.
"Money from vendors will help with the cost of the operation of the market," Grady said.
Now 39, Grady attends classes at the University of Tampa. She plans to get her bachelor's degree and a master's in accounting, and then become a certified public accountant.
Only one who has walked the widow's path can know what it means to be one, Grady said, especially those with young children.
"Every time my daughter has a milestone, it's a bittersweet moment," she said. "Even though she didn't know her father, I know the day will come when she will ask about him — how he died, what happened — and you have to go through all of that. When she took her first step or said her first word, I was excited and happy but also sad because her father, my partner, isn't here to see that."
Meanwhile, being a full-time student, along with being the mother of a 2-year-old and running a household, doesn't leave her time to bring in much income. She sells Avon products, and both she and Marrero have their own tables at the market to bring in a little cash for themselves.
"One of the greatest benefits of the market is meeting other widows," she said. "If a widow comes in and we talk, you feel like you've made a connection with somebody that knows what you're going through every single day. Sometimes just making that connection and speaking with someone like that is greater than any amount of money we could have made in one day."