In Search of a Home

Mediaon November 2nd, 2017Comments Off on In Search of a Home

Justin looked into his young wife’s face and whispered, “I promise you, you’ll never have to sleep outside again.” Deanna stared at him, her brown eyes filled with tears, a comforter pulled tightly around her shoulders. She was nine months pregnant and her life was chaotic. Justin had lost his job, they had not been able to pay their bills and now they were homeless. They were curled up on the front steps of a department store.  She was thankful that the weather was getting warmer. But in her heart she felt nothing but panic.

Although he’d always lived in New Jersey, Justin was quickly coming to the realization that he would not be able to live there much longer. He had not been able to keep his job and the cost of living was astronomical. That night the couple moved into a homeless shelter and Justin called his cousin Paul in Cincinnati, Ohio. A month later the couple boarded a bus to Cincinnati with a newborn baby girl, Avianna. Paul had been able to find Justin a job as a cook at a restaurant in Blue Ash, Ohio. The family arrived in Cincinnati and moved in with Paul. However living conditions were far from optimal for the young family. It was crowded, noisy and rough on the baby. To make matters worse, they had lost most of their belongings in transit.

Desperate to find a place they could call home, Justin decided to explore the city. “I walked out on faith,” Justin remembers. “I knew I had to find a way out. But I had no idea how!”  A few hours later, quite by accident, he found himself on the steps of the Freestore Foodbank. Within a few moments, Justin knew he had come to the right place. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “I felt that I had met the nicest people in the world at the Freestore Foodbank.  They were helping us carry stuff and holding doors open for us. After months of suffering, it was amazing to experience genuine compassion and kindness.”

The Freestore Foodbank immediately got to work finding emergency shelter for the young family. They enrolled them in their Stabilization Project which works with individuals facing multiple barriers to employment. Participants are paired with a case manager to help them navigate issues such as childcare, housing and medical needs. Through a minimum six-month process, case managers support and encourage program participants to improve their stability with a focus on maintaining employment.  Within a few hours, Justin and his family were checked into a hotel right across the street from the restaurant where Justin worked.  The Freestore Foodbank also helped Justin get a new birth certificate, one of the items he had lost when he moved.

A week later, in late September, Justin, Deanna and two-month-old Avianna moved into their own apartment.  The Freestore Foodbank paid the security deposit and the first month’s rent since Justin had just started working. “We wanted to give them a leg up so that they could get settled in their new environment,” says Dan Anderson, social worker at the Freestore Foodbank. “We are beyond grateful for the help that the Freestore Foodbank provided,” Justin comments. “Without their support, we would not have survived this move with our newborn baby.”

Today Justin and Deanna live comfortably in their apartment. Justin still works at the restaurant while Deanna stays home to take care of the baby.  Justin sometimes works double shifts to make ends meet. They still come to the Freestore Foodbank once in a while to get food.  “It is comforting to know that they are still there looking out for us,” Justin comments. “However, we are doing everything we can to be independent and to lead a normal life.” And that is exactly the goal of the Freestore Foodbank – to help people get back on their feet when they fall on hard times and to give them the tools they need to lead stable lives going forward.

Justin and Deanna are one of hundreds of families that the Freestore Foodbank assists on a daily basis. “Wrap-around services such as housing and rental assistance, food, clothing and social services are part of the broad spectrum of services that we offer,” says Bernice Cooper, Vice President of the Customer Connection Center.  “Our goal is to deliver critical services to our neighbors so that they can build stability in their lives.”

The Customer Connection Center, located on Liberty Street, has a choice pantry on the lower floor that provides emergency food assistance to nearly 75,000 families every year.  They also offer clothing to over 4,000 individuals annually and distribute bus tokens so individuals can have transportation for employment or medical services. The Customer Connection Center is home to the Benefits Call Center that provides assistance with enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), health insurance and Medicaid. “We are proud of what we have been able to do for individuals like Justin and Deanna. It is very gratifying to see that we have been able to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors,” adds Ms. Cooper.

To learn more about the Customer Connection Center go to