November 03, 2008 12:00 PM

HE HELPS PEOPLE KEEP THEIR HOMES

It was tight, but with two jobs Leroy and Monica Wilcox paid the bills, fed three kids and covered the mortgage on a two-bedroom townhouse, where the $2,000 monthly fees were more than they’d planned. “We didn’t know what we were getting into,” says Leroy, a security officer from North Brunswick, N.J. Then Monica’s work hours changed; unable to afford a babysitter, she quit. Bills piled up, and Leroy landed in the hospital with chest pains. Foreclosure loomed.

Desperate, they contacted Rev. DeForest Soaries Jr., founder of the Housing Assistance Recovery Program in Somerset. A church-affiliated nonprofit, HARP spares homeowners eviction by tapping bank credit lines to buy back homes in default; owners can then rent and repurchase their homes at a more affordable rate within two years. So far the group has bought two New Jersey homes and is purchasing 25 more, including the Wilcoxes’. In exchange, beneficiaries must pay rent on time, develop a budget and attend debt management classes. “When people come here, they’re at a very low point emotionally,” says Soaries, 57, a married dad of twin teen boys. “We embrace them on a human level.” Leroy, 42, is grateful. “It’s rough out there,” he says. “This is heaven-sent.” http://www.fbcsomerset.com

SHE HELPED A SICK MAN HANG ON TO HIS HOME

Horse farm owner Alison Eastman-Lawler didn’t know Kristofer Beinder well, but she did know that during the two years he’d been her neighbor in Hollis, N.H., he’d been battling cancer of the pituitary gland. So she was alarmed when a “For Sale” sign went up in front of the house renovated by Kristofer, 35, and wife Katherine. “We’re trying to sell it before the bank takes it,” Kristofer told her. Why the financial pinch? One of the drugs that keeps him alive isn’t covered by the insurance carrier Katherine’s employer switched to earlier this year. Its price: $6,000 a month. “They shouldn’t have to choose between their home and their life,” says Alison, 41.

On Sept. 21, at a fund-raiser Alison organized, more than 500 people opened their hearts and wallets to buy things like baked goods and pony rides to help Kristofer. At day’s end, when she told the former salesman she’d raised $5,300, he burst into tears. That haul, combined with $7,000 raised by Kristofer’s school friends, will enable him, Katherine and their 8-month-old son Alek to stay in their home through winter. “There’s no way to thank her enough,” he says. The Kristofer Beinder Fund; PO Box 153; Hollis, N.H. 03049

SHE FEEDS HUNGRY KIDS

Growing up poor, Rebecca Rund and her family bounced from relatives’ houses to shelters to cheap motels. “Once,” Rebecca, 42, recalls, “we had a jar of pickles for dinner.”

So when the mom of four learned many kids at her daughters’ Carson City, Nev., elementary school went hungry on weekends, “I thought, ‘This isn’t going to happen in my hometown.'” With $3,000 from her husband’s company, she launched Food For Thought. Every Friday Rebecca and her volunteers fill backpacks with soups, granola bars and other food to sustain 270 students, and often, their families until Monday. Says Stephanie Hess, a mom of three whose ironworker husband had to move to find higher-paying work: “This just helps so much.” http://www.nvfoodforthought.org

HE TOOK IN AN ENTIRE FAMILY

Friends used to tease Veston Rowe, a bespectacled director of publications at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., about his perfectly ordered life. Then one day last year, he learned Victoria Mejia, the 7-year-old daughter of Veston’s best friend Sparker, had failed to complete an assignment—to describe her room. “She looked down and said, ‘I don’t have a room,'” Veston recalls, tears filling his eyes.

He knew Sparker, a carpenter who had renovated Veston’s three-bedroom home, had faced setbacks: first, a back injury and then dwindling business as a result of the bad economy. But looking at little Victoria, who—with her parents, Sparker and Rosie, and two younger brothers—was staying with Rosie’s mom after the bank foreclosed on their home, “I had to do something,” Veston recalls. “I said, ‘Victoria, you have a room now.'”

So last October Veston invited the family—along with their two dogs, two ferrets and a tarantula—to stay with him for as long as they need. While Rosie helps clean and cook, Veston helps pay for the couple to go to school—and happily changes 18-month-old Ares’s diapers. “Veston,” says Sparker, “taught me what true friendship is.” But Veston, 51, who hopes to make the arrangement permanent, says he’s the lucky one. “I love,” he says, “having a family.”

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