Jessica, a homeless mother of two who has cancer, does not go to Ford's Chapel United Methodist Church in Harvest, Ala. But the church sure came to Jessica, providing a new home and hope.
With her 9 and 11-year-old kids in tow, Jessica (who didn't want her last name used) moved in to her new digs Monday with a full heart and a stocked fridge, courtesy of a spiritual community that has kept growing behind her.
"It's just sort of blown us out of the water how many people responded," Ford's pastor Calvin Havens told The Huffington Post.
In a story first reported by WHNT (see video above), the outreach started over chitchat at a Subway sandwich shop. Havens eats at a local store about once a week. He always made conversation with the outgoing manager Jessica, and they became friends.
She told him how she lost her home in a tornado that swept through Huntsville on April 27, 2011. She and her children had bounced around between shelters, her mom's place and motels, rejecting welfare to make it on their own, Havens said. To try to make ends meet, she was working at two Subway locations.
Recently, Havens noticed she was no longer at his lunch spot. When Jessica reappeared a few weeks later, Havens asked where she had been.
Jessica answered she had been diagnosed with uterine cancer and was in the hospital. In the meantime, she was fighting to take possession of a mobile home ruined by a squatter. The place was uninhabitable but she couldn't afford the repairs or utility deposits to move in.
That's all Havens needed to know. He mobilized an army of do-gooders. Ford's congregation redid the place, installing new flooring, plumbing, and electricity. The process took two months and Jessica got her first peek on Sunday. "We had the 'Extreme Home Makeover' theme for her yesterday," Havens said, referring to the once-popular reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
"It means the world to me that we can finally call something a home,” Jessica told WHNT. “I can’t believe it. Such a miracle. We‘ve been through so much. I just can’t explain it.”
Others have gotten involved. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church helped with the renovations, the station reported. St. John’s Cancer Ministry, the St. Vincent de Paul Group, and the Knights of Columbus are pitching in too, plus individuals and businesses.
On a more personal front, Ford's congregant Lisa Wolfe has become a surrogate mother to Jessica as she battles her disease, Havens said. Jessica needs a hysterectomy. The chemotherapy has left her unable to work, Havens added, although Subway has promised Havens to keep her job open until she returns.
Despite the obstacles that loom ahead, at least Jessica and family have one less problem to overcome. They have a roof over their head they can call their own.
Said Havens: "Just a casual conversation started this whole thing."
Those who want to help out Jessica can send contributions to:
Ford's Chapel, PO Box 297, Harvest, AL 35759