Unsung Heroes: Collecting for families in need

It’s hard to say no to a request from Lisa Rosemarie Ray — just ask her hundreds of Facebook friends who routinely respond to her online pleas for a bicycle helmet, a backpack or a particular size of children’s clothing — items that are then distributed to needy families via Lisa Ray’s Donation Group.

“It’s not easy being my friend,” jokes Ray, “because LOL — all my friends have helped me with this donation group and really should be acknowledged.”

Since starting the nonprofit a little more than a year ago, Ray has aided more than 1,000 families with donations of gently used kids’ clothing, shoes, backpacks and new school supplies. She’s also filled special requests for items such as sheets and towels, cribs, toiletries and fixings for holiday dinners.

Ray is a vital link between families looking to donate their children’s outgrown stuff — and other families that struggle to outfit their kids for school.

It’s a simple enough idea, yet it’s paying huge dividends. Children’s self-esteem gets a big boost when they have nice clothes to wear to school. Parents are relieved — and often so grateful that they reciprocate by donating whenever they can.

It’s also recycling on a grand scale.

The effort started casually enough: Ray had dropped by her pharmacy to pick up a prescription when a clerk mentioned that she was trying to help a single mom who couldn’t afford clothes or school supplies for her kids. Lisa offered to help. She also posted a notice on her Facebook page, asking if any of her friends had items their kids had outgrown.

Ray wound up with six huge bags of clothes for the family; she remembers the mother had tears in her eyes when she saw the collection.

That was all it took. Figuring more families could be in need of similar help, Ray contacted the Lucia Mar school district, and that led to referrals to other agencies that assist families in need.

“If Lisa doesn’t have what someone needs, she will find a way to get it,” says Mary Squellati, site coordinator of the Nipomo Family Resource Center. That’s one of more than a dozen local nonprofits and government agencies that regularly turn to Lisa Ray’s Donation Group to line up clothing and school supplies for their clients.

Ray, a single mom of two school-age children, is modest about her efforts: “I’m not a trained business person. I’m just a mom trying to help other moms.”

Yet as the effort has grown, it’s become increasingly sophisticated.

Instead of writing “needs” lists down on slips of paper, Ray now enters everything into a computer — the genders, ages and sizes of the children she helps, along with likes and dislikes. (One such notation reads “Tomboy, no girlie shoes!”)

And it isn’t just children who benefit; Lisa collects adult clothing as well, and offers that to the children’s parents.

Her effort has been so successful that she’s outgrown storage space a couple of times. She now devotes the entire bottom floor of her home to the Donation Group.

Ray would like to expand someday; she received a small grant from Walmart and is hoping that additional grants might make it possible to move to a bigger space and hire an assistant.

Plus, she’s interested in adding a formal job training component, so that the clients she helps could gain experience working at her nonprofit and then parlay that into jobs.

“She really thinks outside the box,” said Squellati. “She recognized the need for clothes, but she didn’t stop there She recognized one need and then realized the community has many needs I can’t tell you how many families we’ve helped through Lisa.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, we’re proud — and grateful — to recognize Lisa Ray as our Unsung Hero for November.

How to help

Drop off gently used clothing, as well as new toys for the holidays, at donation bins in front of Albertsons market in Arroyo Grande and Dream Dinners at 795 Foothill Blvd. in San Luis Obispo.

To find out more about the organization, join Lisa Ray’s Donation Group on Facebook.

About unsung heroes

This is another in a series of monthly editorials celebrating the unsung heroes in our community.

By highlighting individuals who unselfishly apply their energy and skills to lighten the burden of others, we hope, first, to offer these community heroes the appreciation they deserve; second, to let those who could use the help know of available resources; and third, to inspire others who are able to help in whatever way possible.

If you would like to nominate an unsung hero, contact us at letters@thetribunenews.com.