Community members rally to try to raise $2,817 to keep evicted family of four in their apartment

Cristal Harris: 'I was literally brought to tears'

CINCINNATI – The Harris family has new hope.

After WCPO told the story of Cristal and Jason Harris and their two sons earlier this week , viewers and readers have asked how they could help the family.

Both Cristal and Jason Harris were laid off from their jobs in 2012 within a few months of each other. They have been struggling financially ever since – even though Jason Harris got a new job in January.

On Thursday, the Harrises were evicted from their Kennedy Heights apartment. They owe $2,222 for two months back rent and late fees. Their landlord said if they can come up with that money – plus $595 to cover rent for August – by Aug. 6, they could stay.

Two local men have stepped forward to help raise the money the family needs.

One is Carl McMullen, Jr., a Procter & Gamble Co. employee who has never met the Harris family. He saw their story on Channel 9 and was compelled to help.

McMullen has established a page for the Harris family on the gofundme fundraising website. He's trying to raise $2,800 for the family by Aug. 6.

"That could be anyone. That could be me, losing a job and falling on hard times," he said. "And it was $2,800. In the grand scheme of things, that's just a minimal amount."

The other person who has stepped forward to help is Ron Wells, an electronics assembler who used to work with Cristal Harris at a previous job.

Wells has started a fundraiser for the family through his hobby business, The Paracord Shop. He makes bracelets, key chains and lanyards from military-grade paracord. It's not a big business. But through Aug. 6, Wells said he would donate 65 percent of the money he raises through selling his products t o the Harris family.

Wells said he would send the money directly to the family's rental office to help cover their rent.

"Everybody should be trying in some way to help everybody out. That's what Christ wants us to do, and that's what I feel as a believer and a member of my church," Wells said. "I know I'm not going to be able to find $2,800, but I can do what I can."

Cristal Harris said her family feels blessed that people in the community have stepped forward to try to help them. The gofundme site had more than $1,000 in pledges before noon Friday.

"Initially, I was literally brought to tears," she said. "I've seen generosity, but never like this. These people don't even know us, and it was just so awesome. They were tears of joy."

Time will tell whether the two efforts will raise enough money to help the Harris family stay in their Kennedy Heights home.

Many Local Families Need Help

Stories like theirs are repeated all too often across Greater Cincinnati, said Liz Carter, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati .

"St. Vincent de Paul sees families like this all the time," Carter wrote in an email to WCPO. "Last year alone, we provided $986,000 of rent or utility assistance to help more than 5,000 families remain stable in their homes."

St. Vincent de Paul gets the money through private donations from individuals and foundations. But there's never enough money to meet the community's need, she said.

"When we arrived at our Outreach Center on Monday morning, there were more than 400 voice messages waiting for us from people facing homelessness, hunger, lack of medicine, etc.," she said.

The organization sees greater numbers of people visit its food pantries at the end of each month, often because they have seen a reduction in their food stamp benefits or have had their hours cut at work, said Elysa Hamlin, senior communication coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati.

There is lots of talk about how the local and national economy has improved, but that simply isn't the case for many families across the region, Hamlin wrote in an email to WCPO.

Requests for rent and utility assistance have increased by about 9 percent since this time last year and by 19 percent since this time of year in 2012, she wrote in the email.

In the first half of this year, the number of people asking for food at the organization's Edyth and Carl Lindner Food Pantry in the West End has increased by 12 percent in 2013 and by 37 percent over 2012.

"Our volunteers talk to so many families who are asking for help for the very first time," Hamlin wrote. "Many people are still unemployed, others have gone back to work but at much lower wages. Even after going back to work, it can take months or years to be financially secure again."

Hamlin added: "The recession may be ending for many of us, but for these families, its effects linger." 

McMullen said he wasn't sure exactly what it was about the Harris family's story that made him want to help.

Maybe it was his understanding of how many families are devastated by job loss in a world where so many companies are cutting back, he said.

Maybe it was the $2,800 amount, he said, a number that is so big for the Harris family but so small relatively speaking.

Whatever the reason, McMullen said he decided he wanted to make a difference for this family, and he hopes

enough other people will want to do the same.

"My parents taught me, if you can help someone – do it," he said. "You'll always be blessed when you bless other people."

For more information about the gofundme fundraising effort, go to http://www.gofundme.com/ceh0os .

For more information about The Paracord Shop's fundraiser, go to https://www.facebook.com/TheParacordShop .

For more information about St. Vincent de Paul, go to http://www.svdpcincinnati.org .

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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