In today’s recession, just about anyone could find themselves in Tom Jacoby’s situation. This working, married father of four never imagined there would be a day when his children would live at a homeless shelter.
But after cutbacks in the trucking and shipping industry cost him his job, he and wife Solie lost the home they had owned for 10 years to foreclosure. Now they and their four children — Teresa, 16; Sean, 13; Zachary, 10; and Noah, 9 — are staying at La Mesita in Mesa and trying to start over.
“Even though we’re down on our luck, we’ve been more fortunate than others,” Jacoby said during an interview at the transitional homeless shelter for families. “There’s quite a lot of stories here — a lot of different people, problems and situations.”
This year’s Our Children Matter campaign, a two-month fund drive sponsored by the Mesa United Way and the Tribune, aims to help children like the Jacoby kids. The goal is to raise $15,000 by July 31, with 100 percent of funds going toward the needs of East Valley children, including those who live in Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler and Queen Creek.
In the past, this annual Tribune readers campaign has funded a variety of projects.
“But this year, because of the downturn in the economy, we decided the campaign should be for the basic needs of kids — food, shelter, safety, clothing,” said Carol McCormack, executive director of Mesa United Way.
McCormack said the campaign comes at a time when food banks are seeing a decline in donations and an increase in people seeking food, when schools are seeing more homeless children, when the state clothing allowance for a foster care child has been reduced to $12 a month.
“The program is particularly important this year, as many area nonprofits are seeing donations reduced because of the economic times and are working hard to figure out how to continue to provide these valuable services for the community’s children,” said Tribune publisher Julie Moreno.
“Investing in programs that help to serve area children is a fundamental building block of a strong community.”
Schools are some of the first places to see the growing needs of children whose parents have lost jobs or homes. This school year, Mesa principals reported more children coming to school on Monday after having eaten little over the weekend.
“As families are having financial challenges, one of the places where they make cuts is in their groceries,” said Mike Cowan, associate superintendent of the Mesa Unified School District.
“There have also been a couple of reports from kitchen staff to principals that there have been people looking for food in dumpsters outside of the school kitchens.”
With the rise in foreclosures in Arizona, schools are also seeing more homeless children. Federal law requires school districts to transport homeless children to the schools they originally attended before losing their homes. Joe O’Reilly, executive director of student achievement support, said the Mesa district has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of these children on its buses.
This year, the district transported 1,312 homeless children to schools throughout the city; last year, that number was 1,195.
Those figures only include homeless children who rode school buses, so the actual number of homeless may be higher, O’Reilly said.
The Jacoby children attended Mesa schools this year after the family moved to Arizona from Illinois in February. When Tom lost his job and the family lost their home, they decided to move to a warmer climate because doctors said it would be better for Solie, who has a bone deterioration condition.
Tom appreciates the help his family has gotten from La Mesita, but he’s determined to find a real home for his wife and children. He has gotten a job as a dispatcher with a security company and is saving money for a place to live.
“We’ve been a strong family unit for many years,” he said. “As long as I’m working and can keep working and we can do what we need to do, we’ll be fine.”
To donate to the Our Children Matter campaign:
• Go to www.evtrib.com and click on the Our Children Matter logo
• Or, go to www.ourchildrenmatter.org
For information, call the Mesa United Way at (480) 969-8601 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.