For the past year, Lisa Hunt Sodano has been on a mission to make sure local families in need get the support they are sometimes too afraid to ask for.
“I just kind of feel like it’s my calling,” Sodano said.
Inspired by her own experiences and the community support she was given, Sodano, 41, of Somers Point, started an organization called Loving Families in Need Matter in the summer of 2016.
Through a partnership with Lifegate Church in Somers Point, Sodano has helped hundreds of Atlantic County residents — some struggling parents, others displaced by fire or flood — by providing donated items and support, as well as connecting them with others who can help.
Helping people is second nature to Sodano, who is a nurse’s aid for in-home care. The mother of five sons, ages 12 to 25, is no stranger to tragedy.
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In 2007, Sodano’s first husband committed suicide in front of her and her four children at the time. The day of her late husband’s funeral, she received a call that her home was robbed and then burnt to the ground. To her surprise, the community came out to support her with donations.
“It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to get us back on our feet,” Sodano said.
Through the years, Sodano said she has volunteered her time to help others. But when she came across a homeless man bleeding from the head outside the Somers Point Acme, and saw the lack of help he was receiving from passers-by, Sodano said she was inspired to do more.
“Our homeless situation in Atlantic County is really bad and it needs some attention, and I’m doing the best I can,” she said.
For the second year, Sodano hosted a back-to-school event in August where she provided school supplies, free haircuts, family activities and necessary toiletries to about 100 children.
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L’oreal Chrisp and her girlfriend, Chrissy Bishop, of Brigantine, took their three sons to volunteer this year and were immediately struck by Sodano’s generosity.
“When we talked to Lisa, she just opened her arms to us,” said Chrisp, 36. “When I tell you, hands-down, she’s awesome. She’s amazing.”
Chrisp, 36, said Sodano has created a community within the community for people who need help to lean on each other for support.
“I felt like this is something that we really need to be a part of,” Chrisp said. “It’s not like she’s not struggling herself.”
Sodano’s current husband, a kidney donor, is undergoing medical complications related to his donation.
“Unfortunately, the medical services we needed couldn’t be provided in the state of New Jersey,” Sodano said.
So she and her family packed up their belongings and are staying with extended family in Pennsylvania until he is in better health.
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Still, she is in the midst of organizing her second Christmas event for another 100 families.
Sodano said that because her group is not 501(c3)-approved, it’s harder to collect donations, but she hopes to apply for the nonprofit status soon.
And the homeless man who inspired her? Sodano said she helped that day to get him the medical care he needed. She said she maintains contact with him and has helped him get several jobs.
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