An outpouring of generosity from strangers — including donations of cash, food, clothing and hotel room vouchers — has lifted the fortunes of a homeless family with eight children that was broke and desperate one week ago before a Times Union story told of their plight.
“It’s amazing how many good people are out there. We’re very grateful,” said Razalia Smith, a mother of eight kids between the ages of 18 months and 16 years. Fire forced her family from its three-bedroom West Hill apartment on July 14. They were turned away by shelters and social service agencies unable to provide emergency housing for such a large family. They exhausted Red Cross assistance and ran through meager savings while staying in a series of low-budget motels for two weeks.
“A week ago we had no money, we were running out of food and we didn’t know what we were going to do the next day,” said Smith. A July 25 Times Union story and photographs of the family crowded into a single room at the Red Carpet Inn on Henry Johnson Boulevard in Albany spurred many offers of assistance.
Now, in addition to $1,400 in donations of cash and other items, Albany County social services helped the family — including Smith’s fiance, Eddie Arnold, 27, who is unemployed — locate a five-bedroom apartment in the Delaware Avenue neighborhood. Smith is also currently unemployed, although both have been applying for jobs, she as a hair stylist and he as a landscaper. The couple will be able to afford the $1,200 rent on the apartment with roughly $1,500 the family receives in monthly federal benefits.
Readers responded to the family’s dire straits with passionate altruism.
“I read the story and it hit me like a thunderbolt that I had to help them,” said Peg Carroll, 86, of Albany. She was moved to help because she survived a house fire in February that destroyed her kitchen. She escaped that fire without injury, as the Smiths did theirs. Smith’s oldest child, Stephon Lynch, 16, led three of his siblings to safety, but had to return to the smoke-filled apartment to find and rescue the youngest, Elizabeth, 18 months.
The father of six of Smith’s children was deported to Jamaica two years ago after an assault conviction for whipping his 16-year-old stepson with an extension cord.
Smoke and water destroyed most of the Smiths’ possessions. Carroll gave the family a check to assist with their recovery. “I think the Lord presents us with opportunities to help others, and if we don’t pay attention and miss the chance to help, we’ll end up regretting it,” said Carroll, who leads a local prayer group that has been meeting for the past 25 years.
“There’s a lot of power in prayer. We know it helps people,” said Carroll, a parishioner at All Saints Catholic Church in Albany.
“It was a shame what happened to them and it touched my heart,” Marino said. “I’ve been down and out and close to being homeless myself in the past. It only takes one small thing for most people, and your life can go down the tubes.”
Marino spoke with the family at length, collected donations from customers and referred the Smiths to a local church with a thrift shop where they were given free clothing.
“They’re a really nice family with well-behaved children,” Marino said. “My customers were happy to help them and we wish them well.”
Smith praised the efforts of the Rev. Nathaniel Quattlebaum, pastor of Eighth Tabernacle Church in Albany. He also runs the Sheridan Avenue Garage, an auto repair shop near the family’s former apartment. He has known the family for several years and alerted the Times Union to their situation. He volunteered to coordinate donations.
“I want to thank Pastor Quattlebaum from the bottom of my heart,” Smith said. “We’ve been praying a lot through all this and we feel like our prayers were answered.”
“The response was great,” said Quattlebaum, who field calls offering assistance. “I’m delighted by how people in this area come through when others in need. It’s a kind place.”
Other Good Samaritans have contacted the Smiths and have offered to provide furniture, kitchen supplies and household items when they move into their unfurnished apartment.
“My kids are really excited about having a new apartment where there’s plenty of room for all of us,” she said. “They aren’t worried about starting a new school. They make friends wherever they go.”
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