For several weeks, Columbia resident Lynda Cohen didn't know how she could avoid eviction. The single mother of three owed $1,300 in back rent and $659 more due last week, and she had no job.
Then John McDonough Builders, an Ellicott City company, heard from the Salvation Army about Ms. Cohen's plight, and that she didn't have money for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas gifts for her children.
In about five hours, the day before Thanksgiving, the company raised the $1,300 for the back rent on Ms. Cohen's apartment. That was in addition to providing her family with a Thanksgiving Day meal and the promise of Christmas gifts.
On Friday, Grassroots, one of the county's primary homeless shelters, handed Ms. Cohen the $1,300 check from McDonough Builders to keep her and her three sons in their apartment.
The Howard County Community Action Council, which provides some eviction prevention assistance, has approved $600 in additional funds to help Ms. Cohen avoid having to move into Grassroots' motel shelter program, which could have happened by early next week.
"My heart just went out to her," said Lori Ferraro, the McDonough Builders employee who led the campaign to raise money for the Cohen family's overdue rent. Ms. Cohen "could be any one of us," Mrs. Ferraro said.
Just hours before Mrs. Ferraro was to leave town for Thanksgiving vacation on Nov. 24, she called co-workers at McDonough Builders and some of its subcontractors to raise the money.
"We're a small building company in tough times," Mrs. Ferraro said. "I wasn't sure if we could help."
Mrs. Ferraro said she made phone calls from 9 a.m. until about 2 p.m. that day to raise the money. The help came at a critical time for Ms. Cohen, the mother of three boys ages 13, 11 and 9. A college-educated woman with a degree in broadcasting, she had no job, no car that ran and needed hospital care for one of her children.
"We've been through a lot," Ms. Cohen said. "I've just got to be strong. I'm just on the verge of getting back on my feet . . . . All I need is a little time. I know I need a lot of discipline on my part."
Ms. Cohen first made an appeal for assistance to the county at its summit for the homeless in October, telling county representatives about how she faced eviction and homelessness herself.
Some organizations, including the Community Action Council, were poised to help. But Ms. Cohen first had to prove that she had a job that would provide money for her rent in the future.
While her three sons went to school, Ms. Cohen looked for a job. She landed one last week with Dunhill Temporaries Systems in Columbia.
That was enough for her to get the assistance she needed.
"She did what we asked her to do," said Dorothy Moore, executive director of the Community Action Council. "She will be receiving a check from us."
The money from the Community Action Council and from the building company is a welcome relief, Ms. Cohen said.
"You have no idea how things are going to work out," Ms. Cohen said. "I didn't know [Mrs. Ferraro] was going to try to raise the money. I felt especially thankful for what she did."