She Needed A Difference-Maker So She Became One

How one woman went from having nothing to giving her all

Janette Rod, founder of Mama’s House of Thrift in Lillington, grew up poor and now wants to help others faced with similar life circumstances. DAILY RECORD PHOTO / ELIOT DUKE

By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record

LILLINGTON – Janette Rod based her desire to help others on personal experience.

Rod opened Mama’s House of Thrift in 2018, driven by a childhood spent living as the people she hoped to reach. Rod grew up hungry and homeless, often wearing different sized shoes stuffed with newspapers and eating out of garbage.

“I was one of them,” Rod said. “If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. If you haven’t had that struggle, you really don’t.”

Rod eventually lifted herself out of squalor, earning an education and forging a career in aviation finance. Her past never drifted too far away, however, and when the time came to start giving back, Rod dove in head-first. She founded Mama’s House of Thrift in Fuquay-Varina with the hope of reaching the ones like her, the children with a whole life in front of them, held back by a dark curtain of despair.

“I went through a lot of poverty through the age of 17,” said Rod. “When the kids come in, if I can’t make an impact for the parents to change their ways or try to better themselves, I try to plant the seed for the children. That’s the way I see it because my family continued on with poverty and I basically became educated because I didn’t want to continue the struggle for the rest of my life. Education pulled me out of poverty and that is something I preach to the kids: stay in school.”

Rod personally financed the launch of Mama’s House and stretched her resources thin during the COVID-19 pandemic. With limited access to volunteers, Rod and her immediate family continued delivering meals to families as more and more people sought help. The nonprofit’s list of people signed up for assistance swelled to more than 2,300, putting the fate of the young organization very much in doubt.    

“I almost thought we weren’t going to make it during COVID,” Rod said. “With the thrift store being closed and no one funding money, people were scared to bring out food, so what do you do? You can’t keep depleting your own savings and I had already put enough of mine and my family’s money into the organization. I didn’t have any more to put out.   

“People thought I was nuts but I couldn’t let anyone down. So many people were counting on us. There was a moment when you think everything we’ve worked for and everyone we’ve helped, do we just let it go or this is the moment when someone in the community needs to step up? All we have is community support. When I started this I said to the people that if you like what I’m doing and you want to fund it, I’m in. If you don’t, I give it up.”

Rod’s supporters stepped up, establishing a GoFundMe page that raised more than $50,000, saving the food bank and keeping Mama’s House operational a little longer.

“We did thousands of deliveries to porches of people’s homes in the Tri-County area,” said Rod. “There was no funding and you’re running out of food fast. The people were awesome. We did it and came out of it.”

Despite the lingering cloud of COVID-19, Rod went through with a move to Lillington. Mama’s House settled into its new hub, the former Peeble’s location, at 129 W. Cornelius Harnett Blvd. in May, bringing with it all of Rod’s outreach initiatives. Mama’s House recently completed its back-to-school backpack program and is gearing up for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons. The outreach program Rod established allows families to register and receive assistance based on need and circumstances. Mama’s House provides quarterly allowances to those in the program, opening up access to food, clothing, toys and assorted household items. 

“I’m here because I want to be,” Rod said. “A focus of mine was that I didn’t want those families to become homeless. If I could give them that extra $40, $50, $100 or whatever it may be of food a month, and I can help them out with shoes and clothes, that might give them the boost to keep them out of being homeless. I got married at 17 and it was a struggle because I was a young mom and I was still studying. I was there in the food stamp line with my children. I know what they’re going through.”   

With school started, Rod keeps her focus on children. The memories of her own childhood continue to drive her nonprofit’s mission and she realizes the importance of child nutrition. Rod also wants children to learn that what they are today isn’t what they have to be tomorrow.

“That’s why the backpack program is so strong for us,” said Rod. “I want to be a mentor to them. That’s who I’m trying to reach, the ones who aren’t adults yet. They might be used to seeing the way their parents are living, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who they have to be. I want to lead by example and that was one of my main focuses of Mama’s House.

“Living in the mountains here is when poverty hit extreme. I had nothing to eat. I want to make sure the kids have school lunches because that is what fed me. It was either that or literally the dumpster diving, which I hated.”

One of Mama’s House’s more popular programs spawned from another due to such an abundance of support. Rod started collecting toys for Christmas, but found too many arrived after the holiday, leaving Mama’s House with a surplus of goodies for kids. Not wanting to see a good deed go to waste, Rod introduced monthly birthday celebrations where children registered with Mama’s House received toys for their special day. Rod said Mama’s House is excited for Thanksgiving as the location’s close proximity to Food Lion opened up more possibilities for families.

Rod said a Beauty Day and fashion show currently are in the works for mothers, and a new program aims to provide women with free make-up supplies for Christmas. 

“We want to do something really nice for moms,” Rod said. “We want them to feel the same as the women who can, the ones who have money. They don’t have to feel degraded in any way and we want them to feel equal.”

In addition to the food, clothing and other personal items Mama’s House provides, Rod said she wanted to offer something else, particularly to the families struggling with more than just poverty. Mama’s House developed partnerships with different agencies throughout the area that offer many different services dealing with domestic violence and other forms of abuse afflicting families. 

“When I meet with these families, I get it,” said Rod. “I might not be able to resolve everyone’s problems, but if I can point them in the right direction and at least give them hope, I’m always preaching hope. It’s beautiful to be able to do something like that. I know what they’re going through.”

Rod opened the doors to Mama’s House three years ago with a perspective unlike most who venture into the world of nonprofits. Her experiences shaped a future that seemed impossible to a young girl eating from dumpsters. Rod wants to show others that their despair can be temporary, and she does so by example.

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