On the Town
P-town families need your help
Sharetta Butcher was behind her desk at the Salvation Army's Moore Street Community Center last month when Rebekah Tsuboi, who handles the food and toys program, said there was a woman out front she should talk to.
In case you didn't know, every year at Christmastime, the Moore Center provides food and toys to 500 families who wouldn't be able to afford them on their own.
For most of us, it probably takes a bit of imagination to realize what it means to be so poor you know several months in advance that you won't be able to afford a Christmas dinner or toys for your kids.
But every year, even before Thanksgiving, they start lining up at the Moore Center to get on the food and toys list. It's a fact of Portland life.
And another sad fact, as Butcher reminds us, is that every so often someone comes through the line who needs more than just food or toys - which is why Tsuboi was talking to her now.
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It wasn't exactly anything the woman said, Tsuboi told her. After she filled out her application, she just sat there with this little baby in her arms, as if she didn't know what to do next.
But after you've been doing this for a while, you develop a sixth sense for this sort of thing. So, of course, Butcher said to send her on back.
Her name was Jamaica. She was in her mid-30s, part Indian. Butcher particularly remembers her shy smile.
'Hi, sweetie,' Butcher said, 'tell me what's going on' - and the woman burst into tears.
Butcher hugged her until she'd calmed down enough to tell her story, starting with how the baby, Sunhawk, had been born the previous Christmas Day.
They were happy then, Jamaica said - she and her fiancé, Kyle, and her 8-year-old son, Harlem, whom Kyle had adopted as his own.
But Kyle, who'd grown up moving back and forth between Portland and the Warm Springs reservation, had always been fragile. When he couldn't find work over the next few months, you could see him falling apart.
To make matters worse, he started drinking heavily. After one particularly violent outburst in their apartment, the landlord had them evicted. By fall they were homeless, bouncing from one relative's house to another.
Then one bright September morning, Jamaica awoke to discover Kyle hanging from the railing of the porch where they were staying.
Harlem blames God for letting it happen. What was Jamaica supposed to tell him?
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Butcher listened to it all, then told Jamaica that help was on the way. Under the Salvation Army's Adopt-a-Family program, business and civic groups can volunteer to help families like hers get back on their feet.
At least now, Jamaica and her family have a roof over their heads, but that's about it. When she and Butcher first spoke, they were all sleeping on an air mattress. Butcher went to her own home, where she had a crib in storage, and delivered it to Jamaica.
But they still need just about everything - chairs, a couch, lamps, pots and pans, clothes. Jamaica's 1994 Accord keeps stalling and needs to be fixed before it stops altogether.
Maybe you can help, too. If so, call Butcher, 503-493-3925, and she'll be happy to explain the rest.