Marsha Davis first noticed her spunky neighbor earlier this year, shortly after Jean Padgett and her family moved into their two-story house on Briscoe Avenue. Padgett, a warm-natured woman with braided hair, moved to Buffalo with her two daughters and five grandchildren from Long Island in January.
The family was looking to start a new life after suffering the death of Padgett’s oldest daughter, Lashonda Padgett, who had three young children. Life had not been easy for the Padgett family, who had spent significant time in homeless shelters in Long Island before coming here.
After moving to Buffalo they were struggling again.
Recently Davis learned Padgett was having difficulty making ends meet. Nearly six years after the death of Lashonda on Christmas Day 2007, Padgett, her daughters and her grandchildren were still wrestling with the loss.
“They’re at the point now where they’re just surviving,” Davis said. “They need just about everything.”
Like many residents in this city of good neighbors, Davis wanted to help. So she enlisted William Preston, a co-worker at the NFTA. Preston sits on the board of FATHERS, a community group that offers assistance to needy families.
Each holiday season, the Neediest Fund also offers families who are less fortunate a chance to celebrate with food and presents and good will. The News Neediest Fund and FATHERS have teamed up to help the Padgett family.
“My youngest sister used to live in Buffalo, and I heard it was real nice,” said Padgett, telling her story as she sat at her dining room table. “I thought it would a good change for me and the kids.”
Since the death of Lashonda, Padgett has had trouble sleeping. Lashonda’s death at age 24 was attributed to hyperthyroidism and heart disease. Toward the end of her life her body began to shut down and her skin grew darker, Padgett recalled.
Lashonda left behind three children: Nakya Tyson, 11; Talaja Horne, 9; and Saygun Wade, 7.
“I still go to counseling,” Padgett said. “My youngest daughter, Eveline, goes to counseling, too.”
At the time of Lashonda’s death, the family was living on Long Island in a three-bedroom house. Before that, they lived in Brooklyn, where Padgett earned her living by working with autistic children for a private company. But her Flatbush home was in a neighborhood enveloped by drugs and crime.
Her first home in Buffalo was a two-bedroom apartment on Rounds Avenue. It was then Padgett decided to join the Greater Faith Temple Church of God in Christ on Hickory Street.
“The best thing I can do is go to church and go to Catholic Charities every Tuesday for counseling,” said the woman, whose hair is more gray than black. “The counselor helps a lot. I have a lot of issues.”
A worn Bible sits in the center of the family’s dining room table. The Bible is stuffed with note papers scribbled on by Padgett at all hours of the day and night. It includes a note she wrote to God asking for a house. Public assistance pays for most of the $750 per month rent for Padgett’s five-bedroom house on Briscoe. Daughter Eveline helps out with money from her disability check.
“Right now I have food for Christmas dinner: ham, potato salad, baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens and a little chicken,” Padgett said. “Eveline gets the toilet paper, the dish soap, the deodorant, garbage bags. And she gets the wash together. We had a washer and dryer, but the dryer broke two weeks after we were here. The washer just rinses and spins.”
Doing the laundry requires Padgett to first hand-wash the clothes and then put them in the washing machine for a rinse and spin. She hangs them to dry. The blankets, she said, are a tough wash.
On one recent day, Padgett’s youngest grandchildren were sick at home sitting on the living room couch. Kamora Padgett Mitchell, 3, and Destiny Padgett, 5, were congested and coughing.
“There’s no heat upstairs so in the winter time we all sleep in the living room on the couch and on mattresses on the floor,” Padgett explained.
Amanda Padgett, 23 – Padgett’s middle daughter – and Eveline Winfield, 20, had been upstairs before joining their mother at the dining room table. Winfield just completed her first semester at ECC City campus. She suffered from depression after the death of her big sister. Ten years separated the sisters, but Padgett said the two siblings were close.
“Eveline is more sensitive than I am. She’s the happy-go-lucky one. She always did well in school. She’s the brainiac of the family. College is a big step for her.”
Eveline’s smile lights up the room as she explained her first-semester class load: “Biomedical ethics, statistics, college composition and sociology,” she said.
A small artificial Christmas tree stands over to the side of the sparsely furnished dining room. Underneath it is a handful of presents provided by the children’s school.
“It’s not much, but it helps,” said Padgett. “Catholic Charities gave me some presents, too. I try to make Christmas special for her kids, make them happy but I’ll drift off in a room and I’ll break down and cry where no one sees me.”