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"I am a single mom of four. Two boys ages 7 and 3. Two girls ages 6 and 4 months. As of today we don't have a home."

When Eleni Scanagatta saw this post on the Petaluma Parenting Network from Amanda Mertens, who was being displaced from Greenbriar Apartments —?a low income apartment complex that is currently being renovated by a new owner — she could not bring herself to ignore it.

The family's situation struck a chord, and she was determined to help the mother who wrote it. "I reached out to the other parents in the online group and my network to ask them for any assistance they could give," said Scanagatta.

Within hours, people responded with donations of cash and essentials for the family.

"We were able to buy them housing in a motel for 37 days and we're working on raising enough money to get them through the holidays," Scanagatta said.

Scanagatta, a mother of two girls, ages 7 and 9, and her husband Roman have always shared a philosophy of "paying it forward," she says.

"We have been the recipients of kindness and we believe that the more good you do, the more comes back to you."

Amanda Mertens was elated at the help she received when she sent out her message. "I was desperate," she said. "With four kids — two which have special needs — and no place to go, I was at my wit's end." But, she says, as a longterm resident of Petaluma, she's not surprised at the outpouring of help from the community.

"This has always been a wonderful, supportive place to live; that's why I want to be able to raise my children here."

Scanagatta agrees, "We have a &‘village' mindset in Petaluma, where you might not have all the answers or resources, but someone else has the piece you need and comes forward to help." Clothing for Mertens and all four children has been donated as well as gift cards for retail and food stores. The family now has a Christmas tree, presents and decorations.

Grassroots efforts started by individuals like Eleni Scanagatta and other small cooperatives such as Ladybug Connections, a kind of "clearinghouse" for food, clothes and household items founded by local business owner, Gina Drohan, fill a need for people requiring immediate help and fall through the cracks of the larger agencies such as Committee on the Shelterless (COTS).

Executive Director John Records notes that, "Even with the various housing options that COTS has, we are full and have a waiting list for shelter and services." Nonprofits like COTS now face challenges of their own due to a huge loss of government funding, and must develop new avenues of revenue to continue operations. However, Records is an optimist at heart: "When you're working hard at it, solutions happen — sometimes from an unexpected sector."

This year, for instance, 1,800 children received an unexpected surprise when "A Christmas for Kids," a nonprofit organization, purchased a gift for each child using the kids' "wish lists." The annual event was started by Nancy and Jim Braga and a few friends who wanted to give kids whose families could not afford gifts for their children a nice Christmas. Sixteen years later, their efforts, along with those of many others who pitch in, make all the difference to needy children whose eyes light up when they "magically" get their Christmas wish.

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscourier.com.)