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Good SAM: mom-driven program helps needy each week

Charity might just take a "second."

After a decade, the group SAM -- Single Adult Moms -- is alive and well and delivering unsellable goods to families in need throughout Hood River County.

Debbie Phillips of Hood River, who started SAM in 1991, each week takes donated goods from Wal-Mart to low-income families, primarily single-parent households.

"SAM started when I told my pastor I wanted to work with a single mom," said Phillips, who has two children and is a life-long resident of Hood River.

"It started with game nights and potlucks, kept going, and later I asked Wal-Mart what they do with their (unsellable) stuff, and they said they would help," she said.

Each week she delivers items such as clothes, diapers, cat and dog food, bird seed, and toys. The packages might be broken, or the items were returned for various reasons and cannot be put back for sale. Wal-Mart has given SAM three kids' cars that were used as demonstration models. One of the cars went to a toddler whose mother had recently died.

"The clothes might need a snap or a button or a zipper and instead of throwing them down the dumpster it goes to us," Phillips said.

"She does a lot of running around on her own time. It does bring a lot of joy to people," said Lori Arthur, claims department manager at Wal-Mart.

"Anything we can't receive credit on or our vendors tell us to donate we give it to her," Arthur said, adding that the store also donates sweatpants and other clothing to Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital to give to accident victims.

The Wal-Mart connection goes back about eight years, Phillips said. She goes nearly every week, after getting a call from Arthur. Phillips and her daughter, Rebecca Cervantes, a freshman at Hood River Valley High School, load the goods into their mini-van and bring it home to sort.

"We usually have a pile in the living room by size, then we arrange it by names," she said.

Phillips works with about 10 families of single moms from Cascade Locks to Odell.

"I do my single moms first and if clothes sizes don't fit I go out with others, some big families on low income," she said. One family has five kids, and another six.

"And the elderly get the bird seed, which they say saves them a lot," Phillips said.

The work of SAM was inspired by her own parents, Amos and Sherry Phillips of Hood River, who each week go to the Portland area and pick up bread and baked goods for delivery to Hood River County needy.

"It's the way we were taught," Debbie Phillips said. "God blesses us. We just bless other people with it."

In addition to Rebecca, Phillips has a son, Jeremy Cervantes, 18, a student at Central Oregon Community College.

A few donations of food, clothing and household items each week can make a big difference for needy families, Phillips said.

"This means they have money for clothes and food," she said. "If your car breaks down you gotta fix your car and sometimes you skimp on food. The income just isn't there, especially for women," she said. "This helps out a whole lot. Most of the time you don't have a budget for clothes."

SAM has an increasing relationship with New Parent Services, which gives Phillips some referrals, and to whom Phillips delivers baby formula and diapers.

Otherwise, SAM operates on word-of-mouth.

"People will tell me of people they know, and they'll come into store where I work," Phillips said, who is employed at Pine Grove store. The store donates some returns, and Phillips hopes to seek contributions from other stores. She is confident the will to help is there. In the past, she has made incidental requests for specific items to groups and businesses.

"It blossoms," she said. "They say the word single moms and they give."

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