Kevin Riordan: Riverside church pitches in to help family in need

Todd and Tamara Molloy and daughter Laura, 5, will use a house owned by church members after repairs by volunteers.
Todd and Tamara Molloy and daughter Laura, 5, will use a house owned by church members after repairs by volunteers.
Posted: November 15, 2011

When he had a job, Todd Molloy thought of himself as the go-to guy.

Now he's the one who needs help.

"It's hard to accept," says the Riverside resident, whose family was on the verge of homelessness - until its church stepped in.

Over the weekend, a dozen friends from A New Hope Bible Church in Riverside began fixing up a new home for Molloy; his wife, Tamara, 31; and their daughter, Laura, 5.

"We're starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel," says Molloy, who worked in retail and online sales for more than a decade and who turns 32 on Tuesday. "This is a tremendous blessing."

The family could use one.

Tamara, who is as soft-spoken as her husband, has been disabled for a decade with a psychiatric condition. Todd has applied for Social Security disability due to complications from a 2009 surgery he says left him with incapacitating migraines and other ailments.

They have lived in an apartment in a house owned by a family member in Riverside, making do on Tamara's $548 monthly Social Security benefits and $530 in federal food assistance.

But they became ineligible for continued housing aid in July, due to a change in the way family income is calculated, Todd says.

No one from Burlington County or the Community Health Law Project in Mount Holly, which has been working with the family, was available for comment Monday.

The Molloys fell behind, accumulating $2,984 in back rent and court fees. They faced eviction Tuesday but have obtained an extension until Nov. 21, which may provide enough time for completion of at least minimal repairs to their temporary new home in Riverside.

"Everything needs to be stripped down, all the carpet needs to be pulled out, and everything needs to be sealed and painted over," says Glenn Entwistle Jr., A New Hope's pastor. "We need new drywall and new carpet."

We're standing in the living room, where volunteers in yellow gloves and blue face masks are sweeping, scrubbing, and bleaching. The house has spacious rooms and hardwood floors, but it reeks.

Its owners, Ron and Bethany Johansen, are also members of the church. Ron 29, runs a day care center, and Bethany, 31, is a dispatcher.

They and their three young children moved out a year ago because of cat odors from an adjacent property.

"The kids were getting sick," Ron explains.

The Johansens hope to move back into the house eventually. But for now, they hope to make it habitable so that their friends won't end up in a shelter, and have invited them to live there rent-free.

"We need a lot of help to make this a good deed," says Bethany, noting that Laura Molloy is their 5-year-old son's best friend. "We want to make it sanitary."

The Molloys are trying their best, says Entwistle, who has known them since they joined his church four years ago. He believes their experience shows that government is not the answer.

"The real solution to our problems is found in people who care about each other," he says. "It's friends. . . . This is the best bet for long-term temporary housing that won't remove the family from their community."

As some church members scrub the inside, others oversee a yard sale. It nets $450 for the renovation effort.

"We've been emptying cabinets and taking out trash and scrubbing down walls with disinfectant," says Doris MacDowell, 56, an unemployed receptionist from Delran.

The grandmother, who has two adult children, is a volunteer "because there's a family in need, and because Todd and Tamara are good people." As she works, her husband, Tom, is ripping up carpet on the second floor.

Joyce Cherry, 78, a retired proofreader who lives in Delran, happily handles the sale of a baseball card collection at the yard sale.

"We love the Lord, and we're supposed to love each other, and bear up the burdens of one another," she says.

"It's really humbling to know all these people want to take care of us so that we'll have a roof over our heads," Todd says.


Kevin Riordan:

Members of A New Hope Bible Church prepare a temporary home for Todd Molloy and his family in Riverside: www.philly.com/molloyhome


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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