Community's donations keep local family in their Kennedy Heights apartment

'I am honored at the generosity of people'

CINCINNATI – The community came through for a Cincinnati family in need.

Dozens of people who have never met the Harris family raised enough money to keep Cristal and Jason Harris and their two sons in their Kennedy Heights apartment.

After WCPO told the story of the Harris family July 30, viewers and readers wanted to help.

Both Cristal and Jason Harris lost 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 July 31, the Harrises were evicted from their Kennedy Heights apartments. They owed $2,222 for two months back rent and late fees. Their landlord said if they could come up with that money – plus $595 to cover rent for August – by Aug. 6, they could stay.

In what Cristal Harris calls a "miracle," the family has received enough help to pay what they owed and rental payments for the next several months.

"There are no words," Cristal Harris said. "I am humbled. I am honored at the generosity of people. I feel awesome."

A page on the gofundme fundraising website started by Carl McMullen Jr. raised $4,880 for the family as of Thursday morning. McMullen set the goal at $2,800 when he launched the page on July 31 – the day the Harris family was evicted .

The page surpassed that goal and just kept going. McMullen said he didn't know what to expect when he started the fundraiser or whether it would appeal to people.

"It is pretty cool," he said.

The gofundme site and its credit card processors charge fees totaling 7.9 percent plus 30 cents per donation, which would deduct about $412 from that total.

McMullen met with Tim Tope, the Harris family's landlord, to give him a check for the rent. He said he will transfer any other donations that come in, too.

Tope said the money McMullen paid Wednesday, combined with another donation the family received, covered the back rent, late fees and paid up the family's rent through Nov. 1.

'That Feeling Of Stability'

The family also got a donation from an individual who sent a check directly to their rental office, Cristal Harris said, and they might also get some help from the Salvation Army of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Donations on the gofundme site ranged from $5 or $10 to contributions of $50, $100 and even $1,100. McMullen said his grandmother even contributed a small amount.

In all, 89 people had contributed as of Thursday morning.

Cristal Harris said her family feels blessed that they will be able to stay in the apartment, where her sons have made friends.

Her older son, James Whitney, will start seventh grade at Shroder High School later this month. Speedy Signs and Apparel offered to donate the uniform shirts that James will need. And he's relieved that he will be riding his bus with his friends in the neighborhood, Cristal Harris said.

"I have that feeling of stability," she said. "I slept so awesome this weekend, it was ridiculous."

She has a meeting scheduled Friday with Major Holly Daniels of the local Salvation Army to figure out if the organization can provide additional help to the family.

That would entail connecting the family with a case manager who would help them with budgeting and other help, in addition to rental assistance.

"We don't want to just put a Band-Aid on the problem," Daniels said. "We want to try to move them forward so they can become self-sufficient again."

The Harris family wants self-sufficiency, too. Cristal Harris said having several months rent paid up gives her family some breathing room to take care of other financial obligations.

"It also frees us up to take care of things like our car note, to get that paid off early, to put us back in the debt-free zone. It gives us the opportunity to put our children in extracurricular programs. We haven't been able to do that," she said. "This means the world to me and my husband and my family."

For more information about the Salvation Army of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, go to .

For more stories by Lucy May, go to . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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