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Family of 5 grateful for togetherness

The parents struggle with not being able to give more to their three young children

By Pat Gee

LAST UPDATED: 9:50 p.m. HST, Dec 17, 2012

Good neighbor donations

Huddled in the tent they called home, the three children didn't mind the raindrops from a leaky roof or the bugs on their belongings.

"Our kids never complained," recalled their father, Von Schenk. "They were always just so grateful to have mommy and daddy together. Being homeless broke my heart. I now have a job, but it's just barely taking care of us."

Schenk described his family's plight in an application for aid to Helping Hands Hawai‘i's Adopt-A-Family program.

Almost two years ago, Schenk lost his job and couldn't keep up with the rent. His family was forced to impose on one relative or another, then wound up in a tent in a friend's backyard.

Last December, the family was admitted into the Ma‘ili Land Transitional Housing Program, a 44-unit facility managed by Catholic Charities Hawai‘i where families can stay for up to two years while parents learn skills.

But Christmas presents seem a distant dream for the kids, age 7, 5 and 2.

"With our money being so tight, I just can't afford," Schenk said.

The Star-Advertiser's Good Neighbor Fund assists Helping Hands during the holidays in lifting the spirits of families whose lives have been burdened by misfortune. Readers may adopt a family featured in our weekly GNF story with cash donations or gifts, or contribute to benefit all families. (See box for ways to give.)

"We still have many more families that need adopting this year," said Jan Harada, president and CEO of Helping Hands Hawai‘i. "Families requesting support through the Adopt-A-Family program increased to 450 this year from 315 last year. With only two weeks left until Christmas, we are concerned that we will not get enough donors to adopt all the families."

Schenk's wife, Cherish, said that a friend allowed them to set up a tent in her yard because she "didn't want us out on the street" but had no room in her house.

"Her house was too full," she recalled. "It was jam-packed."

So the family of five crammed into a tent made for four. The friend let them use the bathroom and cook in the kitchen, but her housemates grumbled about sharing the facilities.

"The tension in the house was unbelievable," Cherish Schenk said.

The situation got so uncomfortable that her family began taking showers at the beach and eating out, she said.

The leaky tent defied attempts at repairs. They had only blankets — no sleeping bags — and shared them with insects.

"My kids kept getting sick," said Cherish, whose two sons have asthma. "But regardless of the situation, my kids were always happy. We try to show them as much love and care for them the best way we can. We explained to them why we were there, that we couldn't afford a regular place for them to live. But they didn't ask too many questions."

She said she gets despondent while shopping whenever "the kids look at the toys and stuff and every time they ask for something, we can't get it for them. We always have to tell them, ‘Next time, next time.'"

Their relatives have problems of their own and can't help them financially or with accommodations, she said.

"We just have each other," Cherish said.

She has started taking classes to become a medical assistant, courtesy of Catholic Charities, and said her sister has been a big help watching the kids.

The Schenks' caseworker, Kekai Liana, wrote: "They know that in order to make it, they need to obtain better jobs, and with her obtaining a degree, it will benefit her family."

The Schenks said they need household and cleaning supplies, toiletries and clothes. Their daughter, 7, enjoys Barbie dolls and makeup. The boys, 5 and 2, like ninja and cowboy action figures and toy guns.

"No matter what it is that we get, we will be forever thankful," Von Schenk wrote.

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