Church Focus: Strangers give family new start

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 4, 2007

ALABASTER &8212; Just three months ago, Alabaster resident Tonya McDonald returned from the grocery store to find her whole world going up in flames.

&8220;Our house was on fire when we came back,&8221; she said. &8220;We called 911, but it was way too late to save anything.&8221;

McDonald &045;&045; along with Halee, 8, Nick, 7, and Matt, 4, &045;&045;

had no insurance and nothing but a few changes of clothes in the trunk of her car.

And it didn&8217;t get better. Almost immediately after the fire, she lost her job and had to quit school to provide for her children.

&8220;I just kept thinking, &8216;What are we going to do?&8217;&8221; she said.

Two weeks later, Ashley Franks answered that question.

Franks, a fellow student at Virginia College, found out about the McDonalds&8217; situation and rallied support from

friends and coworkers at Student Life, a Christian ministry based in Hoover.

&8220;She didn&8217;t want anything for herself; she was just worried about her kids,&8221; Franks said. And she felt compelled to find help.

Liz Mitchell, a fellow Student Life employee, began to bombard area churches with e-mails about the McDonalds&8217; need to collect food, clothes and furniture for the family.

&8220;When there&8217;s a face in front of you with a specific need, you can either turn away or decide to get involved and help. God&8217;s heart is to care for people who are in trouble, so we wanted to be a good reflection of that,&8221; Mitchell said.

As a result, when the family gained enough help to move into an apartment in early May, individuals from Student Life and other local faith groups were waiting with donated furniture to fill the apartment, food to stock the cabinets and clothes to go in the closets.

A group from the Church at Shelby Crossings outfitted the cabinets with kitchenware while single moms from The Church at Brook Hills filled the linen closets.

&8220;I&8217;m still stressed out, and we still have a long way to go, but the help has been overwhelming,&8221; McDonald said. &8220;We&8217;re so thankful.&8221;

To help, write The Tonya McDonald Assistance Fund, P.O. Box 36307, Birmingham, AL 35236 or e-mail