“I told the kids, ‘This marks the day that our lives change forever,’” Max Malick said. “I really believe that.”
The first phone call came from Chicago, by a woman who used to live at the Jersey Shore and read online about Max Malick’s plight.
The 35-year-old single father, who is struggling to find housing and raise three children on a job that pays $11 an hour, was stunned that a stranger wanted to help.
“I started crying on the phone,” Malick said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
That was just the beginning. Within a few days of the Malick family’s story appearing on the front page of the Dec. 21 Asbury Park Press, assistance poured in from every direction.
ORIGINAL STORY: For Barnegat single dad, a struggle to bounce back
Readers mailed checks, gift cards and Christmas gifts for his kids. They called and Facebooked him with words of encouragement. Three different do-gooders drove to his Barnegat home, picked him up — Malick does not have a car — and took him shopping.
“I had a woman come down here from Freehold,” he said. “She dropped off a package and was crying and hugged me.”
The Barnegat Rotary Club pitched in. So did the Barnegat-based Van Dyk Group, which wrote a $500 check and offered its expertise in local realty.
“A package came yesterday with a letter,” Malick said Wednesday. “This lady wrote, ‘Just a couple of small gifts for the kids. I’m so sorry I can’t do more. I’m very sick with cancer but your story just touched me.’”
All told, Malick said, about 100 readers contacted him. They donated approximately $2,000 in cash, with which he opened a bank account, and another $1,000 worth of gifts and gift cards.
“I am so thankful and the kids are so thankful,” he said. “This was by far the best Christmas they ever had, times a million.”
‘I was kind of giving up hope’
Malick’s earnest effort to overcome his checkered past and raise his three kids — 12-year-old Keyera, 11-year-old Marcus and 7-year-old Devon — struck a chord with readers.
In 2008, he got busted as part of a cocaine-dealing ring. He served six months of a three-year conspiracy sentence. His mother took in the children and he joined them upon his release in 2012.
For the past four years, Max and his kids have been living in the dining room of his mother’s three-bedroom ranch. With just one bathroom for eight residents of the house, including Max’s 24-year-old pregnant sister, the situation is tense and approaching untenable.
“I was at a point where I was kind of giving up hope in the possibility of coming out of our situation, even in the human race,” he said. “Now I really feel like I have a shot again. To see that people didn’t want something from me, that they just wanted to help, I really didn’t think there were people like that left in the world. It was truly amazing — the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
Max is a landscaper making $11 an hour, but the work is sporadic in the winter and his lack of transportation limits his options. In early December he reached out to Paul Hulse at HAVEN/Beat the Street, a nonprofit in Ocean and Atlantic counties, for help finding an affordable home in the Barnegat area, so he does not have to uproot the kids from school.
How is that going now?
“We have a couple of leads,” Hulse said Wednesday. “If somebody has a rental and is able to be flexible with this young man, that would be wonderful. We’ve got partners who are willing to put in furniture.”
Hulse said the response to Malick’s story has been “overwhelming.” A lot of folks don’t realize the amount of working poor in their midst.
“Unfortunately, I see this story a lot,” Hulse said. “I’m working with a woman in Toms River right now who has a small child and is staying in a motel.”
‘Moving in a good direction’
Hulse said he’s impressed with how Malick, who didn’t even have a bank account before last week, has handled the donations.
“Things are moving in a good direction,” Hulse said. “I think the next story you’ll hear is they’re in a home.”
Even more profound than the material assistance, Malick said, were the expressions of support.
“The kids are more excited than I’ve ever seen them, and so thankful too; they got new clothes, which they really needed,” he said. “I feel like as long as I have the right people in my corner, I can overcome my past and have a new future for my kids. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Malick has kept a ledger of everyone who reached out, and his top priority right now is sending thank-you cards. He’d also like to frame the Dec. 21 Asbury Park Press and present it to his kids as a reminder that the world is full of good people.
“I told the kids, ‘This marks the day that our lives change forever.’” he said. “I really believe that.”
To follow up with Paul Hulse on affordable housing for the Malicks in the Barnegat area, firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Max Malick directly, email email@example.com.
Community columnist Jerry Carino: firstname.lastname@example.org.