From homelessness to independence: how 50 mattresses changed 50 lives

Artwork on display at Lotus House Thrift Chic Boutique by contest winner Eugenia Jablon, a 9th grader at D.A.S.H.

The statistics are startling. In Miami-Dade County alone, more than 4,000 children are living in shelters, on the street, in hotels or on friend’s couches. They don’t have the basic needs, the things we take for granted every day. For these children and their mothers, sleeping accommodations are a luxury. Where they place their heads to rest at night is always in question.

The women and children live in the shadows of the community. In silence, they carry years of wounds, suffering, poverty, abuse or mental illness. Every one of them has a unique story, and all they need is compassion and support. Desperate to get off the streets, they turn to the Lotus House for help. Some with nothing, but a plastic bag filled with whatever small belongings they may have. Many of them are pregnant and on their own. It’s hard to imagine, but more than 150 newborns have called Lotus House their first home.

Lotus House serves as a sanctuary for these vulnerable individuals. Every day, they provide support, education and skills that will one day afford these families the opportunity to establish a home of their very own. But starting from scratch requires many resources; the most fundamental among them, furniture and household items.

One fundamental, yet complicated item to acquire is a bed to sleep in, specifically a clean mattress. This type of donation is complicated to obtain because there are many restrictions, particularly in the state of Florida, where they regulate the conditions of the mattresses donated. Although the laws are in place to protect the people receiving the donation, it creates a hurdle for the organization in providing beds for these families.

The problem becomes a bottleneck in being able to transition women and children into their new homes.

“Even if a guest has the keys to her new home and is ready to move out of the shelter, we cannot move her without providing her with a brand-new bed.”Vanessa Cordoba, from the Lotus House, says. “If we can solve this particular problem, it frees up our logistical schedule allowing for more pickups of other furniture items rather than having to chase down clean beds all over Miami.”

Today, thanks to the selfless work of a group of graduate business students at FIU, 50 homeless women and their children will have new beds to sleep in. What began as a project to develop a campaign around “purposeful marketing” for the organization, later became a personal cause for the group.

“I selected a non-profit organization for the class project to give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge learned from the program, and also feel as though they are part of something bigger,” explains Jayati Sinha and professor of Consumer Behavior at FIU. “I wanted the students to create and experience the benefits of purposeful marketing.”

A group of students from FIU’s Master of Marketing program at the thrift store.

The students were moved to hear the stories of so many homeless women and children. The first step was to build awareness of the organization by creating an event at the local thrift store that supports the Lotus House. Secondly, the group mobilized to find companies that would want to partner with the organization by making furniture donations for this cause.

Ultimately, Rooms-To-Go stepped up to the plate and generously donated 50 mattresses that included delivery to the Lotus House. The impact of this sizeable donation means that many families will now have an opportunity to start their lives once again. This week a mom with three children was able to move into her home thanks to this donation.

“We were able to give her brand new mattresses she needed, and this significantly changed her life,” Cordoba says. “We are so grateful because it represents a new beginning for these women and it gives us the opportunity to help so many more.”

For someone who has been living on the streets with nowhere to sleep, the idea of sleeping on a brand-new bed that belongs to them is significant and life-changing. It serves as a foundation for a new life, filled with opportunities for growth and a positive impact on the community.

And the impact is not only on those who benefit from these gestures of kindness and compassion, it also brings joy to those who provide to others. With her experience and research in Consumer Behavior, Professor Sinha tells us that giving to others is vital in connecting and building trust.

“I hope this project will not only educate students but will also nourish their hearts and souls.”

The greater lesson is that marketing does not have to be about a direct of a product or service, instead, it can genuinely make a difference in people’s lives. For this group in FIU’s Master of Marketing program, this project served as a lesson in leadership, compassion, and a higher purpose.

As Malala Yousafzai once said, “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” In this case, a group of 30 students changed the lives of 50 families in one community and potentially the world.

– By Joni Fernandez-Marmo, Mariana Ferro and Aileen Sola