Corrections or additions?
This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 22,
1999. All rights reserved.
Marlo Bodinizzo and Home Front
When HomeFront began in 1989, it grew like the
game of the Farmer in the Dell, with each new volunteer getting
about the needs of indigent families living in Route 1 motels, each
one asking someone else into the circle of givers. They were giving
not just cash, but also time and energy and emotional support for
others truly less fortunate.
In 1990 the U.S. 1 Helping Hands issue honored Connie Mercer (the
instigator of what was then called the Exchange Club) and the other
volunteers who were delivering food and clothing to families in the
motels (December 19, 1990).
Now we focus on one newcomer to the HomeFront corps. Last year Marlo
J. Bodinizzo participated in a barbecue for HomeFront’s children
by her employer, the pharmaceutical consulting firm, ZS Associates,
at 504 Carnegie Center. "We had a huge barbecue with balloons,
face painting, and prizes," she says. "I’ve never seen kids
have a better time in my life. It was heartwarming."
This year she is working at EyeWorld News Service at Washington Park
(14 Washington Road), and when she received a letter asking for
to support a Saturday children’s program, she did more than send a
personal donation. She organized a food, clothing, and cash
drive among the two dozen companies at Washington Park.
Bodinizzo says when she was growing up she had "everything I
whenever I wanted." Bodinizzo’s father does design work for PSE&G,
and her mother is a homemaker. She has a younger brother, an
chemist at International Hydronics on Crescent Drive. A graduate of
Steinert, Class of 1989, she earned her associate’s degree in
and design from Mercer County Community College, and she has worked
for the Princeton Packet, Triangle Art, Old Grange Graphics,
Data Associates, and ZS Associates.
Now, she says, "My heart goes out to them, to the kids that don’t
have anything. I just like doing things for other people, and to put
other people before myself. It makes me feel good to do nice things
for other people."
"When I started this job at EyeWorld I took it on myself to call
HomeFront and ask for a truck to pick up the donations. I typed up
a letter and had delivered it to the companies in the office park.
We put two boxes in each of the seven buildings, and every few days
I bring my tape gun, tape up the box, and replace it with a clean
box," says Bodinizzo. She and her boss, Donald Long, credit the
landlord, (represented by Briege Walker) with cooperating with this
drive. "Our storage room is filled to the ceiling, filled with
clothes, food, toiletries, and diapers."
What about cash? As of press time, except for what Bodinizzo and Long
have donated, the drive had reaped no monetary donations. Some donors
will gladly spend money to buy a toy for a tot or canned goods for
the hungry, but to sit down and write a check for cold, hard cash
is another matter.
And that’s the real problem. All charities, HomeFront
included, find that cash is the most efficient way to fill a need.
No matter how many jars of spaghetti sauce are in your food pantry,
you can’t use them to pay the $1,000 rent deposit that will move a
homeless family out of a motel room and into a real home. No matter
how many warm sweaters and mittens are collected, they can’t be used
to pay the $45 charge for one night in a cheap motel.
Two years ago HomeFront did not need to pay for basic assistance such
as room rent. It could concentrate on giving classes in parenting
and household management to enable clients to become self sufficient.
But because of public policy changes designed to take people off the
welfare rolls, it has had to redirect its resources away from helping
people achieve permanent independence and instead just do band-aid
"With dramatic increases in the number of families seeking
says Mercer, "the system is currently at the breaking point. Many
of the families are no longer eligible for government supports when
an emergency hits. Most are working poor. Some have disabilities."
Here are some of the problems she cites:
agencies report, a working adult heads about 70 percent of the
seeking shelter. Government funds from a variety of sources can be
used for rental assistance, security deposits, back utility bills,
and emergency placements. In previous years, these dollars lasted
until the end of November. This year the money ran out in mid June.
"The private agencies have scrambled to meet the gap, but they
are unable to continue to meet the need," says Mercer.
has seen a rise of 370 percent in homeless children in the last 10
years. "Public funding for homeless services has essentially
the same over the same period," says Mercer.
been running at capacity since July 1. Two low-income housing units
have closed, causing rents to rise. On any one night HomeFront has
from 110 to 290 clients, depending in the season, housed in motels.
would have to work 117 hours a week to afford the average fair market
rental apartment in Mercer County. Federal subsidies for housing have
in the last year. Former welfare recipients who are now in the
can often be classified as "the working poor." Because they
have left the welfare rolls they are not eligible for government
assistance that might otherwise form part of a safety net to help
with back rent, emergency shelter, or a security deposit in case a
Eleven homeless families with a total of 24 children were placed in
a motel on one night last August. One mother was evicted while she
was in labor at the hospital; she owed rent because, while
with a difficult pregnancy, she had lost her job. Another was evicted
when her minimum wage income failed to meet the cost of the bills.
One mother was splitting the rent with the father and
was unable to pay the whole cost when the father walked out. Another
was turned out by her mother from an overcrowded apartment. Other
stories of leaving a home and becoming homeless: to escape an abusive
boyfriend, and to keep a child away from a mentally challenged and
physically abusive uncle.
HomeFront has grown to meet the urgent needs of those falling through
a safety net with increasingly bigger holes. In 1990 it had no paid
employees and almost no budget. Now it is a bustling organization
with a budget of just under $1 million, 32 staff members (including
Vista and AmeriCorps personnel), and 800 volunteers. It has a
office and food pantry at 2265 Brunswick Pike, a "free store"
in Chambersburg, eight vehicles including a pickup truck and a moving
van, and the use of a warehouse at Trenton/Mercer Airport to store
food, clothing, furniture, toys, toiletries, and cookware. Volunteers
sponsor classes in parenting, nutrition, and job skills, arrange
educational and recreational activities for the children, help parents
find and secure jobs, and provide transportation to doctors’
and job interviews.
But like all the other organizations trying to feed and or clothe
those in need — and they include the Crisis Ministry of Trenton
and Princeton (609-921-2135), the Trenton Soup Kitchen (609-695-5456),
the Mercer Street Friends (609-396-1506), the Mount Carmel Guild
and the Rescue Mission (609-695-1436) to name just a few —
finds its resources having to stretch further and further.
For instance, with a budget of $130,000 for housing emergencies, the
Crisis Ministry of Trenton and Princeton will help 200 families with
rent and 125 families with security deposits this year. But that
just 25 to 30 percent of the people who qualify for this assistance,
says Sally Osmer, Crisis Ministry director.
Still, every little bit helps. All the Marlo Bodinizzos of the world
are helping by setting up "giving ops" for the rest of us.
(Think of a "giving op" as like a "photo op," an
to accomplish something easily. Have an extra couple of cans of tuna
fish on your shelf? Drop it in the handy collection box. Drawer too
full of almost new sweaters? Now those sweaters can be put to good
The real need, though, is for hours and dollars. Among those
hours are everyone from vice presidents of major corporations to
clients of HomeFront. Some of the volunteer jobs available: cooking
and/or delivering hot meals twice a week, making up monthly food bags
at the food pantry, tutoring twice a week, transporting children to
events or adults to job interviews, teaching or supervising Kung Fu
lessons on Saturdays, sponsoring food drives, planning parties,
donations of food, clothing, and household goods, and painting or
doing small repairs to apartments. Household items in great demand
include wooden furniture, bed frames, mattresses, and kitchen tables.
As for dollars? $100 will pay for a PSE&G security deposit so that
a homeless family can move into an apartment, and $45 will pay one
night’s motel bill. Most often, those dollars come from the volunteers
who have seen the needs. For instance, Bodinizzo saw the children
having a wonderful time at the Carnegie Center barbecue. It boils
down to what Connie Mercer said in 1990, "What counts is people
getting in and getting involved, getting in touch and forming real
relationships. People helping people, eyeball to eyeball."
"If you can help these folks get through their crises, they can
turn into productive citizens, taxpayers, and homeowners," says
Mercer. "Even with all the growth the volunteers are still the
core and must remain the core. That is the only way that the problem
will be solved."
— Barbara Fox
Pike, Lawrenceville 08648. Connie Mercer, director. 609-989-9417;
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