Marjorie and Guino, immigrants from Haiti, had nowhere to go when they had to leave their Harvey apartment because they couldn’t pay rent. Even though Guino has a job, the couple could not save enough money to pay for basic needs, like clothes, for themselves and their five children - two of which are autistic.
The family was living in a van in St. Charles Parish for three weeks, parked outside of an apartment where they had paid a rent deposit but could not yet afford to have the utilities turned on.
Guino, who is in the construction field, continued to work each day, but worked in fear that his children, wife and their unborn sixth child were drowning in heat back in the van.
Then in July, Marjorie went into labor while at the Salvation Army and they suddenly had another mouth to feed.
That’s when the Alpha Daughters of Zion found them.
The Alpha Daughters took the now eight-member family into their safe house that was opened in 2009 and provided them with shelter, food and clothing.
“The children didn’t even have underwear,” said Minister Ivy Williams, a member of the Alpha Daughters of Zion who spearheaded the opening of the shelter.
Marjorie is glad to have a safe place to stay during the day and some of the basic necessities that she and her children have gone without for so long.
“They help me and take care of us. They got us clothes, diapers, food…everything,” Marjorie said.
Minister Shirley Sims, another member of the Alpha Daughters who was involved with opening the shelter, said that the family’s story is just one example of how important it is to have a safe house in the parish.
“When they came, they had just the clothes on their backs. We’re providing a roof over their head and three meals a day. The children are in a safe atmosphere and the husband can go to work knowing that his wife and children are not in the heat,” Sims said.
More than 10 families have benefitted from the safe house since its opening last September, but soon the house may have to close its doors due to lack of funding.
The shelter aims to provide a holistic network of services to women who are victims of domestic violence, for the rehabilitation of women from the penal system and to aid those in the parish who are homeless.
While the safe house has a partnership with St. Anthony Outreach for clothing and other supplies, Sims said that monetary donations are desperately needed to keep the shelter open.
“We need to let the public know that there is an urgency for a safe house in this community,” Sims said. “And we really need monetary donations so that we can keep the shelter open.”
Sims said that the organization has been denied several grants that they hoped would keep the house open.
“We can’t get any funding because we’re a new organization and don’t have a long-standing track record,” Sims said.
“Everything we’ve done before was on private donations - we were about to have to close when we found (Marjorie and Guino).
“If our shelter had been closed, they would have had nowhere to go.”
Now the Alpha Daughters of Zion are helping to get the children enrolled in school and trying to help the family find furniture for their apartment so that they can move in. Sims said that a private citizen called Entergy and paid for the family’s utility deposits “out of the kindness of his heart.”
The six children, ranging in age from 10 days to 10 years old, are glad to be beating the heat in the shelter until their apartment is ready, even though they do not have a single toy to play with.
“We don’t want to leave, we want to live here,” Marjorie said about the safe house, laughing.
Marjorie’s oldest daughter, Annelaine, 10, said the only thing she wishes she had now was a bike to ride.
Monetary donations to keep the safe house open are tax-deductible and can be sent to Alpha Daughters of Zion Outreach Center, 10757 River Road, Ama, LA 70031. For additional information or for information on donating other items, call the organization’s office at (985)212-2268, Shirley Sims at (504)431-2254 or Ivy Williams at (504)812-0965.