Child's letter inspires aid, idea
Money to help homeless will be collected at M&M Game
Thursday, October 03, 2013 7:00 PM
MARINETTE - Earlier this summer an Illinois family came to Marinette in hopes of making a better life for themselves.
This letter was written to God by a 7-year-old homeless girl. Her birthday wish was for a house so that her family would no longer have to live in their car at a Marinette area park.
Special to the EagleHerald
"Things didn't go like they thought they would so they were homeless all summer," explained Salvation Army case worker Sonia Alonzo. "They did have an income but weren't able to find housing because our housing market isn't good."
Mom, dad, two children and two dogs lived in their vehicle at a free area campground for most of the summer. On Aug. 6 the family applied for food stamps, but a week later were still waiting for approval. That's when they showed up at the Salvation Army. They were given a bag of food and information about resources available for homeless people.
"We have a homeless epidemic. This summer was really bad," said Alonzo. "I had three families, usually I have a lot of singles but lately I've been getting whole families."
The family took advantage of the back-to-school program by the Salvation Army and the children each received a new set of new clothes, used clothing, a backpack and school supplies.
In mid-September a woman from Stephenson, after hearing about the family, went shopping for the children and provided them with even more new outfits and a shopping cart filled with other needed items.
The next day the parents showed up at the Salvation Army with a handwritten letter from their 7-year-old daughter Cheyenne. Here's what it said:
"Dear God, I started school today in a new school. The other kids seem nice. My birthday is Sunday and dad said that no money for a party. I hear dad talking that Sunday we gonna have to sleep in the car again at the park. It is cold in the car and Kota always kicks me when sleeping. I want a house for my birthday. Please God if you can read this get me a house and maybe a toy duck but a house first. I will put this under my pillow so you can read this like the tooth fairy gets it with your help. Love and amen, Cheyenne."
"When I got this letter I just wanted to cry," said Alonzo. "I still want to cry now and I've already read it about 25 times."
That Sunday Alonzo read the letter again, but this time in church. A collection was taken to go shopping for Cheyenne's birthday. Even though there weren't many people in attendance, enough money was given to buy Cheyenne a few nice gifts like a new blanket and pillow, a gift bag, a balloon and yes, even a rubber duck.
By this time the family had found temporary accommodations at a local hotel but their time was quickly running out. Between the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul, the family was able to get out of their vehicle and spend several nights in comfortable beds.
Alonzo was still unable to get Cheyenne's letter off her mind. Then on Sept. 26, Cheyenne's parents returned to the Salvation Army with good news. They found an apartment and were no longer homeless.
"God does answer prayers," said Alonzo. That Sunday the whole family attended church and Cheyenne gave Alonzo a big hug.
"She thinks I helped her, but I know she helped me," she said. "She gave me back the hope to help others."
Alonzo said Cheyenne's inspired letter to God was just what she needed to get cracking on an idea she had about five years ago that centered around the M&M Football Game. Instead of setting up the familiar red kettles that everyone sees around the holiday's, Alonzo wanted to paint kettles maroon and purple, representing the team colors for Menominee and Marinette. Students from each school would then man the kettles at the gates and have a competition to see who could collect the most money.
Alonzo contacted both school districts and was met with great enthusiasm. Her supervisor was equally thrilled with the idea.
"I talked to my boss and she agreed to allow all funds raised from the kettles to go into an account for motel vouchers," she said. "I haven't had money for that. I've had to turn these families away it's heartbreaking to the point that I don't even want to be at work. It's like why be here if I can't help."
The M&M Game will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 12 at Walton Blesch Field in Menominee.