A single mom and her family, days away from having to live out of their car, instead moved into a Tacoma apartment Wednesday furnished and stocked by people who were moved by their plight.
Casmin Savare’s eyes went from wide to watery Wednesday as she walked up to the crowd of 50 people gathered outside her new home on South Pine Street.
She had no idea what was going on.
But she recognized one face: Michelle McLean.
Savare didn’t know it yet but it was McLean whose efforts led 600 people to donate furniture, food, services, money and manpower to create a home for Savare and her four boys: Ronell, 18; Eugene, 17; Ty’Shawn, 14; and Ja’Cion, 11.
McLean is a self-described do-gooder. She’s a co-founder of Peace Out, an after-school program that teaches philanthropy to teens.
But it wasn’t that work that led her to Savare and her boys.
McLean is also a real estate agent.
She recently listed a home Savare had been renting for two years in University Place through a federal affordable housing program.
“I kind of got to know them,” McLean said. “They were good people. She was a good mom.”
Savare had to move out of the home Oct. 31 but couldn’t find any affordable housing in the area.
“They were literally going to be living in their car,” McLean said. “She didn’t seem like someone who expected help. She paid her bills, she just couldn’t find a place to rent.”
McLean’s daughter had an unused RV. Savare and her family moved in there.
But McLean knew that was only short term. So, she turned to Facebook and GoFundMe.
“I was just asking for toiletries,” McLean said.
The call for help went viral.
Soon, there were donations of furniture, laptops, clothing, food and more.
When the Pine Street apartment became available, McLean assigned a designer to each room. “Local people who love to decorate” is how she described them.
“They all reached out on Facebook to their circle of friends to decorate their room,” McLean said.
Savare, meanwhile, thought that she’d be moving into an empty apartment.
On Wednesday, those rooms sported furniture, artwork, homey tchotchkes, beds and linens. About 40 people worked feverishly through the morning and early afternoon to complete the work.
“Everyone was running into each other,” McLean said.
The master bedroom was decorated in purple, Savare’s favorite color. Ronell’s room was done in black and white while the younger boys’ bedroom had a Seahawks theme.
After making their way through the crowd, McLean took Savare and three of the boys into the home Wednesday afternoon.
Eldest son Ronell, calm and soft-spoken, stood in his new room, overwhelmed by the sudden turn of fortune his family’s life had just taken.
“I didn’t expect all these people,” he said. People he’d never met until Wednesday. “But, that’s what’s great about it,” he said of the all the community support.
He walked over to his closet and looked at new shoes, shirts and other clothing. Then he realized his room had a private bathroom.
“I never had a bathroom in my room before,” he said.
Later, Ronell was taking delight in watching his more boisterous younger bothers’ reactions.
“It’s nice to see their faces light up,” he said.
Ty’Shawn and Ja’Cion raced from room to room, each time discovering something new that they then excitedly showed to each other.
The home’s garage had been turned into a rec room with couches, TV and games. Ty’Shawn and Ja’Cion called it a “man cave” but generously announced they would allow their mother to use it as well.
In the kitchen, Savare opened the refrigerator and found it stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables and other food.
“Oh thank you, Lord,” she said. “We got some food. We’re going to eat tonight.”
“This is what happens when you bring a community together,” volunteer Brenda Kelley said as she watched the family explore their home.
After the tour of her new home, Savare took her boys outside to address the small crowd of volunteers.
She thanked them for their work and donations.
“I thank God for Michelle,” Savare said. “She restored my faith in mankind. There are good people out here and … I am loved.”
Savare was thankful for the material goods, the home for her boys. But she was more thankful for something else.
“I got a new family out of this,” she said.