Finding—and now giving—hope at Flint's Community Closet

FLINT, Michigan—People come for help and for hope—and more often than not they are greeted by Redonna Riggs.

Riggs, 47, of Flint serves as the Community Closet Coordinator for Catholic Charities of Shiawassee & Genesee Counties. She works here part time, volunteers here the rest of the time, so that she can help those in need. 

She gives people shampoo and toilet paper, clothes and furniture. She provides all that she can so that she can help others rebuild their lives, just like she did with the help of Catholic Charities.

Riggs, also known as Rae, first came to Catholic Charities four and a half years ago. A friend took her there to get a meal. She and her friend would visit weekly for meals. While there, Riggs noticed the other people there, also in need. 

“I think I’m going through something, and these people are really going through something. You think about people. And you meet a lot of good people. Everybody has a story.”

Riggs has a story too.

“My situation wasn’t drugs. (It was) Depression. I didn’t know how to handle death,” Riggs painfully recalls. In 2012, Rae buried a son, for the second time. 

In 2002, she laid her 6-month-old son in the ground. On the Fourth of July, 2012 her 20-year-old son was a victim of street violence. Riggs' only income was disability. Her ability to work was limited after two of her vertebrae were shattered in a bout of domestic violence. “When my son got killed, I sold everything to bury my son. It was like starting over,” Riggs recalls.

Then, Riggs’ mother—the woman she fondly remembers volunteering at Salem Housing to help those less fortunate—died just a few weeks later on July 30, 2012.

Rae found herself stuck in her bedroom, not wanting to go out. Her remaining children, a son and two daughters, would send her text messages of encouragement and drag her out of the house. “They would push me, push me. They would literally pull me out the bed.”

She soon realized that if she didn’t take care of herself, she wouldn’t be able to take care of her family. She sought out help from Catholic Charities after spending more and more time there, seeing that they not only offered food—but also clothing, counseling, resume assistance and other services. 

“I’ve seen days I didn’t eat. I had to make sure my kids ate. Feed my grandbabies,” Riggs says. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without Catholic Charities … This place is just awesome. They really brought me out of a big, dark place. I can’t say it enough.”

Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties, founded in 1941, provides services to more than 30,000 people annually. In 2016, they served 197,187 meals, gave 254,080 articles of clothing, helped more than 100 children be adopted, provided 10,685 overnight stays, and counseled nearly 2,500 people. 

One of those people is Rae Riggs.

Counseling helped stabilize Rae and she also began to volunteer at Catholic Charities. Just over a year ago, Rae was approached to become the Community Closet coordinator—a paid position. She works part time as the coordinator and the rest of the week, she volunteers her time in the same position.

These days, mental and physical health remain important to Riggs. She works with her daughter on physical therapy to reduce the pain she experiences on a daily basis from her injury. She continues to go to counseling to help organize and strengthen her resolve. “I was in such a bad, dark place. I didn’t move forward. I wanted to end me,” she says, dropping her index and middle fingers from her temple. “I didn’t know how to take the pain.”

“If I’m not working, I’ll volunteer. Sitting at home, it gets the best of me. It lets my mind run. Days I don’t get paid to work here, I volunteer,” she says. When she started, she would wear the same pants each day and change her shirts. Catholic Charities helped bolster her wardrobe, and her home. After selling off all of her belongings, she now has furniture again. “We’re blessed.”

With her eyes set to the future and continual self-improvement, the only thing that Riggs would like to change is how much she is able to work. Her goal is to work full-time as the Community Closet Coordinator by mid-year—which will afford her the opportunity to not need her disability income and to be completely self-reliant. 

“Full-time working mom and grandmother. I want to be back to me,” she smiles. 
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