Mary’s Place helps families experiencing homelessness celebrate the holidays

Mary’s Place is helping families experiencing homelessness to celebrate the holidays despite the challenges they’re currently facing.

“To be able to give them that Christmas spirit and put a smile on their face, and show them that somebody cares, it’s indescribable,” Paula Eka said.

Just a few months ago, Eka could have never imagined the cheery holiday setting at Mary’s Place in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

She and her 5-year-old daughter, Alayla Berry, were almost on the streets.

“We had paid for our last night at the motel,” she said. “The manager said either you renew your room or you go; and I could not renew the room.”

Eka is a veteran. So is her ex-husband, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan between them.

“That just takes the toll on the family and put a lot of stress on our marriage,” she said, “and led to unfortunately our divorce.”

Eka and Alayla moved north for a new start after two hurricanes in Louisiana and the death of Eka’s parents; but it was clear they couldn’t stay with a friend or at a motel forever.

Then Mary’s Place returned her calls with an offer of shelter.

“What did you say?” reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“Absolutely, please, thank you, is this real?,” Eka said with a laugh.

“As we know, things aren’t merry and bright for everyone this holiday season,” Mary’s Place Executive Director Marty Hartman said. “Two-parent families, single moms with kids, single dads, multigenerational families, families with pets, you’re all welcome here.”

Just last year, Mary’s Place moved 573 families into stable housing.

But the pandemic has been tough for them, too — they had to close several shelters.

“We went from 800 beds to 500 beds and that has been devastating,” Hartman said.

Their No Child Sleeps Outside Campaign aims to raise $2 million dollars by the end of the year, and they’re working to make sure families feel remembered this Christmas season.

“Gifts are a beautiful reminder that you are not alone — that you are loved, you are wanted,” Hartman said.

They’re looking for gifts that children can give their parents, like purses, wallets, headphones, slippers and gift cards.

They also need gifts for kids, especially 12- to 17-year-olds, who are often hard to shop for.

“You can go online and pick specific gifts you want to buy, or have delivered from our charity wish list; or you can give gift donations that we can then, in turn, buy those needed items for our families on your behalf,” Hartman said.

More information on what’s needed and where to drop it off by Dec. 20, the very latest deadline, is available here.

“How are you feeling about this holiday and the year ahead?” reporter Linzi Sheldon asked Paula Eka.

“Grateful and hopeful,” she said. “Because they’ve taken that burden off of us, to say, ‘Hey we know it’s going to be OK, we’re supporting you. We know it’s the holiday season, we got you covered.’ Just so grateful and so optimistic for the future.”

In addition to shelter, Mary’s Place also offers rental assistance to keep families in their homes. You can find more about all of Mary’s Place’s services here.

To learn more about the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign, click here.