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One minute, she was the stay-at-home mother of two children with a house and the middle-class life.

A divorce later, Mandie Otto was the homeless mother of two with no job looking to find her footing in a new county.

Otto said she moved to Frederick County from the Baltimore area. The former stay-at-home mother with a college degree had no job, no income and hardly any money to her name.

Now Otto and her children live in a house. The 180-degree flip came with the assistance of nonprofits that stepped in to help Otto.

Some of those charities are part of the 2019 Unity Campaign run by the United Way of Frederick County. The campaign began in 2014 to “fill the gaps” in nonprofit funding, building on previous campaigns such as Frederick 48 and The Frederick News-Post’s Season of Hope, according to the United Way’s website. Until 2017, it was hosted through The Community Foundation of Frederick County. The News-Post is an in-kind sponsor of the campaign.

As of Wednesday evening, the Unity Campaign had raised $344,263.35 for 32 participating nonprofits.

Advocates for Homeless Families placed Otto and her children in transitional housing while she looked for work. Once she found employment, they offered her housing at a steeply discounted rent. She also received food stamps and used the food bank offered through the Frederick Community Action Agency.

Together with a Section 8 housing voucher, and help from the Interfaith Housing Alliance, United Way of Frederick County and CASH Campaign of Maryland, Otto bought a house three years ago, something she thought would never be possible when she was homeless.

“Because at that time, I was very much thinking, you know, I was in this mindset of ‘I’m poor,’” she said. “‘I’m poor. I’m on Section 8. I’m gonna be renting forever.’”

Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership of Frederick County also helped to provide items such as pajamas and school supplies for her children.

People like Otto are helped through the Unity Campaign and the nonprofits it supports. She never expected to be homeless, she said.

“It’s important that we as middle-classers contribute to the Unity Campaign because these are the groups that are helping our friends and neighbors, and we don’t know who needs what when,” Otto said. “And we don’t even know if we’re going to need something.”

The Unity Campaign has hit its midway point. So far, it continues to see a strong wave of donations and donors, said Amanda Holk, director of advancement for the United Way of Frederick County.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the campaign was 24 percent ahead in dollars raised when compared with this time last year, Holk said. It has 40 percent more donors than it did midway last year.

Holk urges people to continue to donate. The United Way raised the donation goal to $525,000, and the organization is in the “fingers-crossed” stage of hoping they meet or exceed it.

If everyone were to give $5, the goal would easily be met, she said. Nonprofits serve as a safety net for people, especially those who never expect to be in a situation where they might need it. Donating now ensures there is help for those who need it now and those in the future.

“And I personally feel that it’s just a responsibility of society that while things are going well for you and while you’re stable, why wouldn’t we give back to those in need?” she said.

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

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