Reminder Assistant Editor
SOUTH HADLEY All it took this winter was one story from a client to spring Mary Quesnel Sudyka, owner of Family Cuts on East Street, into action. She was told of a six-year-old boy who stood at a bus stop every morning this November without a coat.
Unaware of the growing number of homeless and impoverished children living in South Hadley, Sudyka was stunned to learn that as a lifelong resident she was totally naive to their plight. In conjunction with the South Hadley Chamber of Commerce and the Helping Hand Committee, Sudyka rallied the community for a full-scale fundraising effort on behalf of the 26 families at Jessie's House -- an organization that provides transitional assistance to homeless families in Amherst, Holyoke and South Hadley.
Having collected approximately $1,000 from private donations and $500 from the Helping Hand Committee, Sudyka and volunteers bought winter coats and holiday gifts for each of the 86 children at Jessie's House's three locations. She said members of the community also donated many new toys and clothes totaling in the thousands of dollars.
"It was unbelievable how the community came together," Sudyka said. "We've given these children who would not have had a Christmas, a Christmas and a warm winter."
Jane Banks, program director at Jessie's House, said she was overwhelmed by the generosity of the South Hadley community since the establishment of their additional location here last January.
"We've had a congregate shelter [in Amherst] for over 25 years and to go into a new community like South Hadley that's never had a homeless shelter and to receive the support for our programs it's been incredible," Banks said. "The amount of integrity that community has for people in need is huge."
Banks explained that the affluence of this area of Western Massachusetts can be deceiving for Sudyka and others who are unaware that skyrocketing costs of living are heavily impacting even middle class households. She stressed the importance of Sudyka's fundraising efforts because of increasing operational costs for Jessie's House and inflexible funding from the Department of Transitional Assistance.
Banks explained that rising fuel and food costs for the shelters have caused them to increase their fundraising and grant writing efforts. Jessie's House in South Hadley provides multiple bedroom apartments for the homeless for six to nine months as well as other amenities such as food, heat and electricity.
"When you come into a shelter you're literally coming in with the clothes on [your] back," she said, adding that donated funds allow for families to receive food, clothing, case management, searches for future residences, birth certificates and social security cards in order to obtain employment.
Sudyka said she is hoping to continue her efforts during the 2008 holiday season and is still collecting donations on behalf of Jessie's House. Donations can also be mailed to the Jessie's House headquarters at 17 Seelye St., Amherst, MA 01002.
For more information about Jessie's House, go to their Web site at www.jessieshouse.org.