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Myra Bradley was volunteering at her church, packing toiletry bags for homeless people, when she had a thought: I might need one of these bags soon. She was a single mom of three young kids who was about to receive her last paycheck for the foreseeable future. “For some reason, I brought the bag home with me, and I said, ‘For as long as I don’t have to use this bag, I will make sure to provide for others.'” She’s made good on that promise.
Have you always been the type of person to help others?
Yes, I think from a child I’ve always had a heart to help others, help my friends throughout school. And as I became an adult, or a single adult, I helped a lot of single mothers. I’ve always been a helpful person in every area that I could be.
What was it like being a single mom?
Being a single mom at some point could be frustrating. It could be prideful because you didn’t want to ask anybody for help. You wanted to do it all on your own.
I think for the most part it was just a humbling experience to work and provide for the my son and two daughters, and make sure that they had everything that they needed. So for me, I think being a single parent it played a huge part in who I am today, as far as helping others and making sure that they are equipped with the things that they need.
Did you ask for help when you were going through tough times?
Yes, I did. The first time I ever decided to reach out and ask for assistance was for Christmas, because it was a very, very hard year. I reached out and I was “adopted” by an organization. I think it was Christmas Eve that I went through all of the toys. I just wanted to see who would get what.
After going through the different presents, I found a lot of them to be used. One of the dolls was actually missing an eye. It was heartbreaking. I couldn’t do that for my children. You know, I would rather them wake up and not have anything than to wake up and have toys that were already broken.
It made me feel really bad, like I wasn’t doing enough. But luckily, they did get other gifts. And I explained it to them at the time—they were at an age where they did understand a little and they knew that we had gotten assistance.
What led you to form Women That Care?
I was attending Edenton Street United Methodist Church and had become a member of their homeless committee. But at the same time I was going through a situation myself. I had just recently resigned from a position that wasn’t working out for me. We were packing bags for the homeless, and as I was packing the bag, I’m thinking, I don’t have a job, and I may be homeless at some point or I may need one of these bags. Because after that last paycheck I didn’t have a clue of what was going to happen.
For some reason, I brought bag home with me, and I looked at the bag and I said, “For as long as I don’t have to use this bag, I will make sure to provide for others.” And that was the turning point for me in actually bringing Women That Care to life.
I started Women That Care to focus on the homeless and other people in need for different basic needs services. I think the focus has changed over the years to include a wide range of people—women, men, children, senior adults, homeless people, people that are getting out of prison.
What’s your overarching goal?
I think Women That Care serves two purposes: It serves the purpose of helping those that are in need, but it also serves the purpose of bringing awareness to what is going on in our community and those that are in need for assistance.
Sometimes people can write a check and feel like they did their part, but I don’t think you do until you actually get out there and you start working and you start doing the work and you start actually coming eye-to-eye with people that are in situations—a homeless person or a single parent that can’t hardly make it for her children.
As people get more involved, then they begin to see what a difference they can make. So that has been really rewarding for me, because some of my friends that may be on my board right now got involved and it became something that they really wanted to do, that they really enjoyed doing.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had in this work?
One of the challenges is getting donations. We have nonprofit status, but we just recently received it. And so it was a struggle trying to make sure that whatever event we were hosting that we had the proper donations that we needed.
I have felt like giving up, especially when I see things that I’m doing and I’m like, “I don’t have enough donations, I don’t have enough blankets, I don’t have enough school supplies.” But then I’ll see something or talk with someone, and it just makes me go harder and make sure that we’re able to help other people.
When people come up and say, “Thank you so much; that really helped me out,” or “I really needed that,” that really makes me go harder. And at that point, we do what we have to do, even if it’s spending our own personal money to make sure that we have enough to give people.
What keeps you going?
There’s so much more that can be done. People are in need of toiletries, household cleaning supplies, back-to-school supplies. But to be able to give someone my business card and say, “Give me a call later and I’ll make arrangements to make sure that you can get those items”—that’s filling in the gap.
It’s great to receive that, because—going back to my days as a single parent—you often don’t have enough or you’re making your paycheck stretch from this week to next week. You also have to prioritize, and sometimes that means prioritizing food over toiletry items. It touches my heart to be able to fill in that gap so that you can use your money to pay a bill or get food or whatever the case may be.
What I’m learning with seniors is, because they’re on fixed income, those things usually are hard for them to get. So to be able to take them a Women That Care care bag—it really makes a big difference.
What different services do you provide?
Our signature services are the Women That Care toiletry bags and Women That Care household cleaning supplies. The toiletry bags can include anything from soap to toothpaste, and that’s mostly for the homeless community. Families and seniors may be looking for household cleaning supplies—dish detergent, things like that.
We have snack bags as well. I often call those “emergency bags,” because late at night, when the food pantries or soup kitchens are closed, these bags can serve emergency food for others.
Who do you work with in the community?
We collaborate a lot with Phillip Brickle with Lost Sheep Ministry, and he’s been probably working in the community for about 25-30 years. He started out downtown at Moore Square Park with the a pot of soup, I think, feeding the homeless. Now he does different events throughout the year to help people with different items, and he’s always bring in a lot of different agencies to help out.
We work with the Real Live Women of Raleigh. They do different events in the year to help the community. They might do a Keep Raleigh Warm, a winter coat drive. So we’ll go there to help them out. Different churches call on us to do different things when they have events. So we’re all over the place, just setting up and giving out our toiletry bags.
We’re part of the resources for Wake County Human Services now. People can go on their website looking for emergency assistance, and Women That Care comes up. I’ve been in this field for so long, working with different agencies, that my number has just become a public number.
Do you get a lot of phone calls?
I do. I’ve had people call for assistance and just out of curiosity, I ask, “How did you get my number?” And one guy told me, “Well, I got it off the bus. I was telling someone that I needed certain things and they said, ‘Call Miss Myra, and she’ll help you out or direct you in the right place.'”
So people will give out my person number, and I’ve never changed it because I’m a public figure, I guess.
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