A mother’s love is what makes a house a home—but in some cases, it creates a grassroots movement.
Almost thirty years ago, new mothers Madeline Brogan and Terry Stottlemyer were moved after hearing about two families living in low-income housing without much in terms of furniture, clothing, and supplies.
After a couple phone calls, Brogan and Stottlemyer rallied their friends to ensure that the children would at least have enough to call their new living situation a home.
“We both just had a natural instinct to help, call it a mom’s instinct,” says Brogan, president of Mothers Helping Mothers. “Supplies that seemed so minor to some of us, meant the world to these families.”
It was after that act of goodwill that a community-wide effort was born.
The two mothers quickly identified other avenues to help struggling moms and families. With the help of friends and churchgoers, donations were collected out of car trunks, then porches, and eventually a warehouse in North Sarasota where they established their home base in 2008.
“The way the community got behind what we were trying to do was phenomenal,” Stottlemyer said. “We kept needing more and more space, and the renovation of the warehouse gave us a permanent place to set up shop.”
Serving about 9,500 children a year and operated entirely by volunteers, the Mothers Helping Mothers warehouse serves as a one-stop, go-to store where mothers who are struggling financially can go to collect supplies free of charge.
Conveniently located along a main bus route, long lines of families wait outside in all types of weather for the store to open so they can pick up diapers, clothing, toys and equipment.
For almost three decades the program has relied on a shoe-string budget that is supported by support from individuals, churches, and businesses. However, the organization has seen a growth in need and recognized improvements that had to be made to their services.
“More and more families are showing up,” Brogan said. “Time is important to everyone, but especially these families who struggle with some of the most basic needs. Our facilities have slowed down our check-out process, which is frustrating for both our customers and volunteers.”
Recently, the organization leased the rights to expand into the adjacent 8,000 square foot warehouse next door where the group can expand its service. The goal is to ultimately purchase the space from the landlord at a discounted rate.
Additionally, a grant from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation recently provided long overdue operational efficiencies. The funding has allowed the store to streamline operations, create an emergency fund, provide maintenance to vehicles, and install a new after-hours collection box to alleviate overflow.
“It’s partners like those who help us continue to serve on the frontlines and get families what they need. It’s hard work, but it’s the right thing to do,” says Brogan.
For one recipient, the Mothers Helping Mothers cause not only provided much needed support, but eventually grew into a personal passion.
“I was a teen mom—father no longer in the picture,” says Jennifer Aranda Burgos. “I was alone. It was the hardest time of my life. It was difficult for me to find a job, and I couldn’t afford child care.”
The young mom visited the nonprofit store expecting to be judged, but what she found was a welcoming place where she could get all she needed to keep her baby healthy.
“I thought I knew what to expect, that I would be labeled. But instead I went in and I felt loved. It felt good knowing there were people who just wanted to help.”
Encouraged and supported by volunteers, Aranda Burgos eventually went to college. She now has a stable job and gives back her time by volunteering at the store to help those who are in the position she once was.
Mothers Helping Mothers is open from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays, Fridays, and the first Saturday of every month. The store, 5933 N. Washington Blvd., is accessible via the No. 8 SCAT bus line.