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Scary Mommy easing mothers' fears for Thanksgiving

The confessions from moms on the Scary Mommy blog are often funny: the spoon kept in the glovebox for eating Ben & Jerry's in the store parking lot, letting ketchup count as a "vegetable," going to the gym to read magazines instead of work out.

But as Thanksgiving approached two years ago, ScaryMommy.com founder Jill Smokler saw despair from her readers: the mother who swallowed her pride to get a food box, only to be told she made too much money; another who couldn't afford a loaf of bread, much less a turkey and all the trimmings; and the mother who wished she wouldn't have to hear her children mask their disappointment with "It's OK, mom," on the holiday.

"In the midst of planning my own family's meal, I was seeing a trend: families having to cancel Thanksgiving meals because they couldn't afford them," says Smokler, a Mount Washington mother of three and best-selling author.

She posted a blog entry, seeking to match those who could spare $50 — the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal, according to an American Farm Bureau Federation 2012 study — with those who couldn't afford the holiday dinner.

"I was thinking we'd have a dozen or so," Smokler says. But within a week, the online community raised $20,000 for grocery store gift cards to help about 400 families — in the process launching the Scary Mommy Thanksgiving project.

Last year, the program raised enough money to provide meals for 200 families. And this year, so far, it has raised $114,000, enough for more than 2,000 families.

"It continues to surprise me," Smokler says. "But people always rally."

Some donors give a $1, saying they're struggling themselves but want to help. Others give far more.

Callie Yaeger, an Abingdon mother of two young boys, is forgoing gifts for her 31st birthday to donate to the project.

"It goes directly to the people who need it. ... When it goes to administrative costs — that's kind of a bummer," Yaeger says. "I have a friend who was helped last year. Otherwise, she would've been eating spaghetti and peas for Thanksgiving."

Applicants are asked about the names and ages of their children, the name of a local grocery store chain and how the donation could help them.

Yes, it's the honor system. But the stories are real and compelling — federal workers reeling from the partial government shutdown, military families, single parents, families with illnesses and disabilities, Smokler says.

"It's food. It's so basic. It's not a video game," Smokler says. "I can't imagine not being able to fulfill that basic need for my children."

The program has been streamlined since the first year, when Smokler was matching families with needs and donors using index cards.

"The dog would wag his tail, and I'd have cards everywhere," she recalls.

In the past, donors were asked to send the grocery store gift cards directly to the recipients. But some families didn't receive them in time, creating a panic for them and Smokler, who tried to overnight deliver the gift cards to those people.

This year, Smokler has help matching the recipients and donors from the Scary Mommy community bulletin board moderators, who are using spread sheets. Donations are being made using PayPal, so that Smokler's team can make sure the gift cards are delivered in time for families to shop for their holiday meals. Scary Mommy Nation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, also has been established.

Smokler has also been capping the applications when there's a waiting list until enough donations come in to catch up with the backlog — there were more than 200 families waiting as of Sunday.

Among the recipients is Rayona Young, a Dundalk mother of three who works as an assistant property manager.

"You have to swallow your pride sometimes and say, 'Hey, I need a little help,'" says Young, who volunteers at a Harford County homeless shelter on Thanksgiving as a way to give back. "I'm paycheck to paycheck. There's no room for extra."

A $50 grocery store gift card will mean the difference between turkey parts and a whole Thanksgiving turkey, she says.

"You don't get a wish bone when you don't buy the whole turkey," says Young. "The boys are already excited about it."

For more information or to donate, go to scarymommy.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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