Mother’s Day BBQ provides food, clothing and reminder to unhoused moms that ‘you are not alone’

“My message to single moms is that you can find a way out, find your gift and you can do anything,” said LaSonya Alexander, founder of Moms Can Do It 2.

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Organizer Tawana Pope gets food Saturday during a Mother’s Day BBQ that provided meals for mothers experiencing homelessness in West Garfield Park.

Organizer Tawana Pope gets food Saturday during a Mother’s Day BBQ that provided meals for mothers experiencing homelessness in West Garfield Park.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

A grill, some hot dogs and a desire to help was all it took for two matriarchs on Saturday to turn a vacant lot in West Garfield Park into a community-minded barbecue to support struggling moms.

Tawana Pope said she organized the barbecue ahead of Mother’s Day to give moms struggling with homelessness and addiction a shoulder to lean on — and share their stories — while also enjoying chicken, hamburgers, string beans, potatoes and cake.

“We need to come together, open up to help others and remind each other that you are not alone,” Pope told those who showed up. “Tell that story that took your breath away.”

Pope, a mom who struggled with addiction but has been sober for 18 years, works at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Medical Center, doing outreach with unhoused populations. She also runs the nonprofit Diamond in the Making, which provides meals and helps to connect people to social services.

LaSonya Alexander (left), founder of Moms Can Do It 2, holds open a bag as mother-of-three Kendra Hamilton, 36, selects a pair of donated shoes during a Mother’s Day celebration Saturday in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.

LaSonya Alexander (left), founder of Moms Can Do It 2, holds open a bag as mother-of-three Kendra Hamilton, 36, selects a pair of donated shoes during a Mother’s Day celebration Saturday in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

LaSonya Alexander also helped at the event, providing necessities — clothing, shoes, diapers and deodorant.

Alexander said she has always believed in helping people who are struggling, but the mother of seven never thought she would need that kind of support for herself.

She remembers taking her kids to volunteer in 2010 at a homeless shelter, where she met a mom with six kids.

“It seemed like she had it all together,” Alexander said. “She was beautiful and had these beautiful kids. But I would eventually understand exactly what that was like for her.”

Seven years later, one of Alexander’s sons attempted suicide. Not long after, she lost her job and had to move into a homeless shelter with her kids for three months.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” she said. “Yyou have no clue what another person is going through.”

Back on her feet, she started Moms Can Do It 2, a nonprofit that helps support single mothers.

“It’s really important to me to reach out and help when I can,” she said. “I’ve been where they’re at. I understand what they’re feeling. My message to single moms is that you can find a way out, find your gift, and you can do anything.”

Evie Hernandez, a mother of eight who is currently unhoused, leans on the shoulder of Terry Smith during a Mother’s Day celebration Saturday in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.

Evie Hernandez, a mother of eight, leans on the shoulder of Terry Smith during a Mother’s Day celebration Saturday in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Evie Hernandez, who recently had to leave her apartment, stopped by the barbecue to get food. Hernandez wasn’t expecting to hear the stories of others going through some of the same struggles.

“Everyone has been through something,” said Hernandez, a mother of eight. “We’ve got to stick together no matter what.”

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