Tampa mother seeks brighter holiday after experience with homelessness

Editor’s Note: For the 16th consecutive year, the Tampa Bay Times presents Holiday Hopes, a series profiling people in need that gives readers a chance to help. The Times will update readers about granted wishes in January. The series so far has profiled seniors in need of home care and a teenager in need of money for college.

TAMPA — Sharhonda Sanders, 32, and her two daughters didn’t have a place to call home last holiday season. The family split time sleeping at friends’ houses, in their car and sometimes in a storage unit.

This year, they have a home. But Christmas gifts and even household necessities are still out of budget for the family.

Even when Sanders’ car acted as her home, she worried it would break down. A few months ago, after Sanders and her daughters found more permanent housing, it did. Sanders is working at Walmart with no reliable way to get there and back. She rented a car for a time and now she’s borrowing a friend’s vehicle while they’re away on vacation.

“I tell my kids, everything that happens is for a reason,” Sanders said. “Even when my car went out, I still had to make it to work, and I did.”

Sanders has faith that no matter what, she and her family can survive trying times.

During the pandemic, Sanders was living in an apartment in Bradenton with her two daughters, Fatima Hassane, 10, and Aneassa Ansel, 13. It was the first time Sanders had her own home. But she said the landlord didn’t take care of the property, and the apartment was rundown.

The toilets started flooding, and mold grew. She said the landlord never made the proper repairs. It forced Sanders and her family to return to Tampa, where they’re from.

It was hard to find a job in Tampa at the height of the pandemic, Sanders said, so she sought help. Last year, Sanders and her daughters reached out to Metropolitan Ministries, a nonprofit based in Tampa aimed at helping families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Seeing my kids in our car, with all of our stuff, and not being comfortable, it made me be like, ‘no this isn’t about me’,” Sanders said. “I can do this. I don’t want them to do this.”

Metropolitan Ministries nominated Sanders and her family for the Holiday Hopes series.

“When you speak with her, you can hear a lightness in her, being as she no longer feels the weight of trying just to survive day by day,” said Justine Burke, vice president of marketing at Metropolitan Ministries. “She has realized that she is a great mom, a strong woman and that she can trust.”

The family found more permanent housing in Tampa, Sanders found a job and the family has started therapy.

“I’m thankful that people are in place to help me,” Sanders said. “Therapy really helps me ... having that person listening and just being like, ‘it’s OK you’re going to make it through,’ sometimes that’s enough.”

As Sanders and her daughters found more solid footing, Fatima and Aneassa thrived in school. The two girls received honor roll for the first time this semester.

Aneassa has taken to reading and she’s now devouring the Percy Jackson series. She’s on book three, and she doesn’t show signs of stopping. Outside of reading, Aneassa is on her school’s basketball team. She loves being on a team with hard-working girls, she said.

Basketball is something the two girls share in common. Fatima, still in elementary school, hopes to follow in her big sister’s footsteps. For Fatima, science is her favorite subject. She’s taken to the experiments, like exploding Mentos in a soda bottle.

Sanders said her daughters’ attitudes have remained positive. They’ve done so well, she said. Sanders hopes they have something to open on Christmas.

Sanders has goals set in place for the new year. Much of her adult life has been spent working two jobs, but it’s her dream to have a career. Sanders wants to find time to get a Commercial Driver’s License, to start a career in driving trucks. She hopes that as an employee of Walmart, she can drive trucks for the company.

“My kids are getting older, and they really need me home,” Sanders said. “I’m really trying to figure out the best strategy for me to have my family time and still have my financial goals met.”

As far as Sanders and her daughters have come in the past year, they’re still in the midst of restarting. Much of what the family has asked for this holiday season include household items, like an air fryer, a washer and dryer, a microwave and a vacuum. Fatima is in need of a MacBook and Aneassa needs an iPad for school.

According to the girls’ wish list provided by Metropolitan Ministries, Aneassa hopes to get a mannequin head to practice hairstyles on and a Nintendo Switch to play games like Minecraft and Mario Cart. Fatima is asking for gifts like a Playstation 4 and Naruto merchandise, a favorite animé of hers, which includes a headband set and custom Naruto Size 8 skates.

How to help

To donate, visit Metropolitan Ministries’ at www.metromin.org. Click “Donate” and write “For Sharhonda Sanders in the “Notes” section of the donate form.

Check donations can be mailed to Metropolitan Ministries, 2002 N Florida Ave., Tampa, FL 33602. Be sure to write “For Sharhonda Sanders” in the check memo section.

Donations can also be made over the phone by speaking with donor services associates during business hours at 813-209-1218.