Jill Markussen is eager to pass along gifts these days. But not too long ago, she was the one who needed a helping hand. She and her children have been homeless twice in the past four years. First, the former mortgage broker lost her job and then her home.
"I was in denial because of what my conception was, what my assumption was. When you think of homeless, you think of bag ladies and winos and drug addicts. You don't think of suburban families," Markussen said.
After finding an apartment, a fire destroyed the building and turned most of her belongings into rubble. Again, leaving her family homeless.
Through both crises, Markussen sought help from Bridge Communities -- a support services agency that offers transitional housing and mentoring to homeless families in DuPage County.
"Unfortunately we received 1300 calls last year from persons experiencing a housing crisis and we did interviews on about 350 of those families. So, we are to serve just a small fraction of the number of families that are actually in some type of housing crisis here in our county," said Amy Van Polen, Resource Development Director for Bridge Communities.
The single mother of six children credits the agency with helping her earn her G.E.D., acquire a meaningful job and create a stable home.
"Through that and many other struggles that we faced we never felt that we were alone. There was always somebody there to help us out and support us," Markussen said.
Now she wants to pay it forward. She recently started Project Flipmode. Struggling families create a wish list and community members help fill it. Oksana Duwirak and her son Alexander are the chosen family for the month. Donors and community members gather to deliver the goods. She is ecstatic over household supplies like laundry detergent.
But she is utterly shocked to learn that Wickstrom Chevy in Roselle donated a car with a five hundred dollar gas card.
"Alexander and I have gone through a lot of tribulations and it's been extremely difficult, but we're always looking to God to help us and He's always there." Duwirak said.
"I'm happy because it's nice to know that people actually do this for people. It's kind of overwhelming. I didn't expect this." Alexander said.
Markussen knows firsthand what it feels like to know that people care when you're in need. She's hoping the spirit of giving in her community will continue to flourish.
"There's so much more good than there is bad and if we could focus on that and get the community involved in the good, then it's all worthwhile." Markussen said.
Project Flipmode is named in honor of Jill Markussen's oldest daughter, Tanya, who recently lost her battle with liver disease. We're told "Flipmode" was Tanya's nickname because no matter how grave her own situation, she always managed to flip the concern onto someone else.
If you'd like to donate to the organization or nominate a family in need, you can do so through Bridge Communities at bridgecommunities.org.