When Tropical Storm Ian slammed into Volusia County in late September, Catrina McMillan and her 12-year-old son, Christian Hooks, didn’t know where to turn.
“My house is flooded. It had water damage so they condemned it and said it was unlivable so we had to move and then of course my car flooded,” McMillan said Monday.
It was something she’d never been through since moving to South Daytona in 2015 — and something no one had told her how to navigate.
“They didn’t really help us,” she said of the officers who condemned the home she rented. “They just told me we had to move.”
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After hearing about the family’s situation, McMillan received a call from Food Brings Hope, a nonprofit founded by Forough Hosseini that sponsors several Volusia and Flagler programs dedicated to helping families and children in need.
The organization got her a package of household items and groceries for about a week and also connected her to resources like the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and VCan, a Food Brings Hope initiative set up to help children who are dying need food and shelter.
McMillan says the resources are “a blessing” at a time when the family is trying to salvage as much of their home as possible, packing their bags and considering next steps while they continue to work and Christian continues to school went.
With the help of Food Brings Hope and other resources, McMillan was able to navigate the process of getting a new car and moving into the family’s new Port Orange apartment where they have been living for about a month.
McMillan said that while they’re still recovering, especially with daily groceries being so expensive, they’ve been lucky and will continue to take it one step at a time.
Food Brings Hope continues to screen the family to make sure they are okay, and Christian, a seventh grader at Campbell Middle School in Daytona Beach, continues to participate in TeenZone, another program sponsored by the nonprofit.
TeenZone offers tutoring, meals, field trips and more
Christian has been attending TeenZone since last year as a sixth grader and previously attended KidsZone at Turie T. Small Elementary in Daytona Beach. The programs, which exist in a few dozen Volusia schools and some Flagler schools, give children a place to go every day before and after school.
Students participate in tutoring, field trips, and other activities such as sports and arts, and also receive nutritious meals and snacks that families receive free.
“We were really excited to hear they had it at Campbell,” McMillan said. “It made me feel more comfortable because I know they’re amazing and they love the kids.”
Christian said he has time to do his homework for all his subjects, including his favorite, math, and other areas he’s working on.
“They are very good people because one thing I like is that they can help me read because I’m not that good at reading,” he said. “But since then they’ve helped me and I’ve improved, so I’m very grateful to them for their help.”
McMillan says the tutors and extra study time have also helped his grades.
“I get to spend more time with my friends,” Christian said of his favorite reasons for attending TeenZone.
McMillan noted that the program offers Christian good socialization opportunities, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“They went to school every day not to go, so I think that’s a big deal. He likes being able to socialize,” she said. “He’s learned to be more confident, to speak up for himself more and to be an advocate for himself.”
The kids recently went to a basketball game at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where they got high fives from the cheerleaders and ate popcorn, he said.
More trips are planned for the future, which should offer opportunities and enrichment that the children might not otherwise experience.
TeenZone also includes nutrition classes for kids and families that include recipe cards and tips on inexpensive, nutritious foods, McMillan said.
She says the program also helps financially by providing the extra meals — especially when the kids are at the age where they’re growing and “hungry all the time” — and by giving Christian a place to stay while they’re doing it all Day for a health insurance company works.
“Most people don’t get off until 5, 5:30, 6, so it’s a big help,” she said. “Most children would have nowhere to go. Then they would have to leave work or try to find someone to pick them up, so that part is a real boon to us.”
“For us it is day by day, but we are here”
Ericka Burnam-Hoyt, the TeenZone sponsor at Campbell Middle School, said without the support of Food Brings Hope, they would not be able to help families with much-needed resources for free.
“It’s all about the resources that our families get,” she said. “The school fees cannot buy food. Funding cannot buy food. We can’t travel and give students with tuition or scholarships experiences they’ve never had before, but Food Brings Hope is that bridge for us and it gives us the money we need to get our students exposed to things outside their community that they could never do without these funds.”
In addition to being grateful for Food Brings Hope and TeenZone, Christian says his mom deserves credit for helping them lose their car and having to evacuate their home.
“We are on our way to come back soon. It’s day to day for us, but we’re here,” McMillan said. “We are blessed.”
As the holidays approached, Christian said his Christmas list would include his own laptop, a virtual reality headset, a gaming chair, and a “Robux” currency to use online in the Roblox game.
“And my mum and I both like football so I would like a bigger TV downstairs,” he added.
Despite what the family has been through, McMillan had a short list. She confirmed that a new TV would be good to replace the current 20-inch screen, as well as a new air fryer.
All she wants is a new bed for her son.
“It’s been through a lot,” she said, laughing.
About this series: FBH Community’s mission is to nurture community organizations that work proactively to address the root causes of generational poverty. Programs like Food Brings Hope, VCan, KidsZone, TeenZone, Pierson Family Literacy, Homes Bring Hope and the FBH Prosperity Initiative help hard-working families struggling with hunger, home insecurity, underemployment and low literacy. Overheads are covered by the Hosseini Family Foundation, so 100% of donations go directly to the programs and families. During the holidays, The News-Journal highlights the organization by publishing the stories of some of its young participants. To donate to the organization or to help brighten the holidays by giving a child a gift, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at email@example.com.