Kat knows what it’s like to struggle on the streets for the better part of eight years. So when she gave birth to her baby girl, Harley, Kat did everything in her power to give Harley a home.
When Harley was four months old, Kat made good on her promise of a home the day she moved her little family into our housing. Kat turned the key and tears fell from her eyes as she went from room to room of her new two-bedroom apartment. It even came with a generously-donated recliner and a bed. But, still, the apartment was missing the little things that make a big difference for a mother and daughter. Luckily, a small band of volunteers — we’ll get to them in a second — brought a house-warming gift overflowing with essentials.
Kat’s welcome basket included more items than could possibly fit in a sturdy laundry basket. To just name a few items, there was a crib, baby play mat and bouncy chair, plus a “bed bag” with a comforter, sheets, pillowcase and decorative pillow. In addition, there were dishes and silverware, pots and pans. OK, just a few more awesome items: a TV tray, coffee maker, ice cube trays, hangers, shower curtain, mop and broom, radio alarm clock, soap, sponges, and more. Basically, there was everything Kat and Harley desperately needed to make their apartment a home.
As Kat said herself, “When you’re starting off on your own, especially after being homeless, you’re not sure you’ll have everything you will need. I certainly didn’t have anything. That’s why I was so happy when I received my welcome basket, especially the crib, play mat and bouncy chair for Harley. They are simply angels.”
So who are these angels who deliver overflowing welcome baskets to Tulsans overcoming mental illness and homelessness? They are the Welcome Party. That’s not what they call themselves, but it just seems so fitting for a band of nine people set on brightening the lives of strangers who become friends. First of all, they don’t buy and pack the welcome baskets for the glory. They prefer to work outside of the spotlight’s glare. All they want is to be there when someone who was once without a home slips a key into their new apartment’s front door. Once inside the apartment, they have an impromptu celebration with plenty of hugs, a few happy tears, and enough smiles to make their cheeks ache in the best way.
Getting the Welcome Party Started
For the purposes of anonymity, let’s call the leader of the Welcome Party, “B.” When she and her husband, along with two dear friends from church, took a tour of our housing last year, they were inspired to follow in the footsteps of the Assistance League of Tulsa, which creates welcome baskets for our tenants at Yale Avenue Apartments.
“That’s what sparked it,” B said. “Since then, we’ve given away more than two dozen welcome baskets. Now, our group has grown to nine people from various faith groups, including my 93-year-old mother, who helps out financially because of her mobility limitations. We all have more fun together than you could know giving out these baskets.”
On a recent morning, B called not longer after a shopping spree to buy items for the welcome baskets. She giggled as she explained how the Welcome Party members don’t like shopping for themselves, but love shopping for the basket items. After all, as they fill up their shopping carts, they are thinking about the inspirational people who will soon receive the baskets.
“It makes us so happy that it’s like a big Christmas present for them,” B said. “It’s nothing really big, but it makes a difference to them and that’s what makes a difference to us.”
In October 2016, our tenant, Mark, was the first person to receive a Welcome Party basket. The moment Mark moved into his apartment, he told the Welcome Party he was so thankful to call his adult children, who were each successful in their own ways, and tell them that Dad was finally home and ready to start life over. Among Mark’s life goals was to start volunteering in the community, with hopes of turning that volunteer opportunity into a full-time job.
Ask B about some of the most memorable people she has met and she’ll tell you about a husband and wife who moved into their apartment before Christmas; a mother and her adult daughter who rely on each other for support; James, who had his toes amputated because of the frostbite he experienced on the streets, and she’ll happily recall the day five people moved into their apartments in one day.
“Each one of them has their own story that is so special and moving,” B said.
Then there’s Brandon, a young man in his 20s who was so happy the Welcome Party gave him a pillow.
B said, “As we were walking out of his apartment, he asked to hug us because he couldn’t wait to sleep on a pillow after so long resting his head on folded-up clothes. That hug meant so much to each of us.”
Thinking about all this group has achieved since October, B said their motivation goes beyond delivering gifts.
“What we’re really hoping is it give them hope,” B said. “We want them all to know that we may have just met them, but we care about them, and we’ll never forget their courage.”
Are you ready to make a difference? Find out how you can start volunteering to create welcome baskets for our new tenants.