Families turn to Craigslist for holiday help
The Washington Post
washington» The way Tyshika Britten saw it, she had a choice. She could explain to children who still believe in Santa Claus that some years are harder for him than others. She could stand on the street with a sign and a bucket. Or she could turn to an unlikely place for help — Craigslist. She began typing. “I am a mother of six, 5 boys and 1 baby girl,” she began. Then in a single paragraph, she laid out how her family would soon be evicted from their Maryland home, how she had yet to buy a tree or gifts, how this was the first time she might not be able to give her children a Christmas.
“I’m so hurt,” the 35-year-old hairstylist wrote. “I’m trying my best. I pray everyday and now I’m begging for help. I know it’s not about the gifts, but they are kids! I’m such a failure right now . . . please help me.”
At a time of year when the lines at food banks seem to become longer and the phones at nonprofits ring nonstop, Britten is not the only parent to ask for help this year on a site normally used to find free furniture and cheap services.
Across the nation, similar pleas on Craiglist reveal the pressure the holidays put on poor and working-class families. Many already struggle to pay bills and can feel overwhelmed by the extra financial burden of gifts and trimmings. Their postings tell of single mothers and unemployed fathers. They list parents’ ailments and children’s ages. Some offer work in exchange for help, while others promise blessings and appreciation.
There is no way to tell how many are legitimate, just as there is no way to know if a post advertising free clothes is a lure for something more sinister. But organizations that work with families in need say they are not surprised that parents are looking everywhere and anywhere for help at Christmastime.
“It’s a high-anxiety time, and there is a bit of desperation,” said Mark Bergel, the founder of A Wider Circle, a nonprofit in Silver Spring, Md., which serves families in need. “Some folks will start calling for help with the holidays in May.”
The organization, which offers several ways for families to receive new toys, gets nearly 500 calls a day. This season alone, the group will serve about 2,500 children and
Tyshika Britten poses with her children, from left: Nazhia Bolden, 11; Donnell Booker Jr., 8; Morgan Booker, 1; Chase Booker, 3; Nevaeh Bolden, 13; and Vashon Bolden, 15. Jonathan Newton, The Washington Post