Sunday, November 12, 2000

Starting over

Grandma's Hands have long reach

        Mattie Johnson and five of her friends — all ladies of a certain age — decided to try something. Something brilliantly simple. Mattie thought maybe she could teach some of the girls in her West End neighborhood to sew. Throw in a little bit of cooking. Slip in a lesson or two on child care. The girls, she said, are having babies. “And they are just babies themselves. They don't know how to take care of them.”

        So Mattie and her friends called themselves Grandma's Hands and set up shop four years ago in a basement at Laurel Homes. It is warm, neat as a pin and smells like freshly popped popcorn. You can buy aprons and shaved ice and hot dogs and cookies at considerably-below-market rates.

        A nice place to come after school. Which was exactly the point.

        When the Grandmas were getting started, Enquirer readers donated sewing machines and freezers, generously overshooting the mark. Surplus sewing machines went to Jewish Family Service for families relocating from the former Soviet Union. Storehouse Ministries delivered freezers.

        Grandma's Hands reached across a whole community, not to mention around the world.

        Meanwhile, Mattie and company dispensed a few centuries of homemaking, mothering and common sense along with after-school snacks. They saved up enough to buy a new microwave and replace the used sewing machines.

        Last weekend, somebody kicked in their door and took the new equipment. And Enquirer readers pulled through again. By 8 a.m. Thursday, a new microwave had been delivered and dozens more waiting in the wings, along with the offer of several sewing machines.

        “Do you think we can find people who need the extras?” Mattie asked.

        Well, if I may say so, need is never a problem.

        Even in these very prosperous times, people are struggling. Going from welfare to work. Escaping abusive relationships. Families evicted, their belongings scattered along the curb. Illness and addiction and just plain, rotten luck.

        For instance, there's the family from Tennessee who sold everything to move here, closer to Children's Hospital. Their little boy needs a liver transplant. And they needed everything else.

        The FreeStore/FoodBank gave them a starter kit. The Grandmas liked the sound of that. “Everyday stuff. Right?” Emma Jones said.

        Right, Emma. Glasses and towels and utensils. Bedsheets. Beds. Tables and chairs. And, for as long as they last, microwave ovens. A drive-through at 112 E. Liberty, downtown, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

        Try to imagine what you might need to set up housekeeping. Brooms, mops. bowls, cutlery. Small appliances like toaster ovens and hot plates, electric skillets and pots and pans. Tell the FreeStore worker at the drop-off that your gently used or new items are for the starter kit. You will almost be able to feel a pat on the back from one of Grandma's Hands.

        “Sometimes just the simplest things are what people need to give them a boost, help them become self-sufficient,” says Vicki Aug Williams of the FreeStore. “It's tough when you're trying to make a new start with no support system. Many of our clients have no family.”

        Not exactly. They do have some Grandmas.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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