In the 1980s, Kathy Difiore turned her home into a pregnancy shelter for unwed mothers. When the need grew, she opened three more residential shelters in New Jersey. Her heroism has been brought to the national forefront by a new movie called Gimme Shelter (release date January 2014)—a touching pro-life film about how Kathy’s shelter gave Apple, a down-and-out teenage mom, hope.
What compelled you to open your home to strangers?
I went through a difficult divorce and found myself homeless for a while. I prayed the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, and I discovered that the only time that I felt peace in my heart, mind, and soul was when I prayed that prayer. Then I studied the life of St. Francis and saw that he lived his faith. “When I was homeless, you took me in, when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was in prison, you visited me.” I decided that once I got back on my feet, I was going to try to do that.
How did you first pregnancy shelter begin?
I took an ad out in a local paper “Pregnant? Need Help?” and I put a hotline in my house. Little by little, I had four unwed mothers living with me. My whole life turned around. At that time, I was working to pay the bills to support these girls and their babies. I had a new life filled with joy. People in the neighborhood would help me by dropping off strollers, car seats, used clothing, and diapers.
How long can a mother stay, and in what ways are you helping them to become independent?
The girls can stay as long as they want. We have a benefactor who pays for their drivers’ licenses and college. We teach them how to be good mothers and how to be loving and forgiving. We have Bible studies and chastity workshops. When they leave, we make sure they know God in hearts, so they can teach their babies about God.
How do the shelters impact the community?
My community consists of the women who are pregnant and their babies, their families, and their friends. My shelters have brought joy and hope and a sense of “we can do this together and with God’s grace.”
How many shelters do you currently run?
I have five shelters in New Jersey, one of which is temporarily closed due to lack of funds. I’m really hoping we can reopen it because of the number of beds we will probably need when the movie comes out. One of those shelters is also a daytime shelter for homeless women. In addition to helping women who are pregnant, we have a number of other ministries. Check out www.severalsourcesfd.org to read about all of the different ministries.
Since each of your shelters can only house six mothers and their babies, how do you manage when there is a greater need?
I’m always playing logistics. We also work with other organizations in New York that have homes. We do creative things, too; maybe a woman needs a place but for the next month her girlfriend will let her stay with her if we pay the girlfriend’s rent. We know that next month we will have an opening. I feel like I’m an air-traffic controller—I have pregnant women flying over my shelter, and my job is to make sure they all have a place to stay, but they may not land exactly at the time that they want to land. All the planes have to land safely—that’s the key.
Back in the mid-1980s, the state of New Jersey fined you $10,000 and made it impossible for you to run your shelter because of antiquated laws. During this 15-month battle, you reached out to Mother Teresa for help. How was she instrumental in helping you keep your shelter open?
Mother Teresa got the fine removed. She also begged Governor Tom Cain to sign a bill [eventually called the Difiore Bill] that states you can take up to six people into your home as long as you have fire protection equipment and live-in staff. Can you imagine being begged by a living saint to do anything?
Before I contacted Mother Teresa, I got a letter from the governor saying, “Kathy, we can’t guarantee that everyone is going to be the humanitarian you are, so we’re going to have to veto the legislation.”
I didn’t know how I was going to continue; how do you override a veto? Inside my head I heard this insistent voice reverberating in my head (a voice I had been previously trying to ignore), saying, “Contact Mother Teresa.” It wasn’t to be denied, and I’ve never done this before in my life, but I immediately prostrated myself on the ground.
Mother Teresa happened to be in Manhattan because she was opening up an AIDS hospital and accepting an award at the United Nations. She and I talked on the phone. She told me she would visit the governor, write him, call him—whatever needed to be done. The governor ended up signing the bill into law, and now years have gone by and a lot of shelters have been opened in New Jersey, and they haven’t had to deal with needless requirements.
How can we get involved?
If you would help, please send donations to Several Sources Shelters, P.O. Box 157, Ramsey, NJ 07446 or donate online at www.severalsourcesfd.org .
See Gimme Shelter in theaters
Gimme Shelter (rated PG-13) is a well-acted and well-made movie with a pro-life message that comes across without being preachy. The story revolves around a pregnant teen named Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens).
Apple is filled with anger and distrust. She has been in and out of foster homes, where she has been sexually abused. Living now with her drug addict, crazy mother, June (Rosario Dawson), she’s not faring much better. Apple runs away and turns to her biological father (Brendan Fraser), whom she has never met, for help. When he and his wife find out that Apple is pregnant, they pressure her to have an abortion.
When Apple meets Kathy Difiore (Ann Dowd) and the girls at the shelter, her life takes a hopeful turn.
Click this link to see a trailer of Gimme Shelter.