In the weeks following the shutdown due to COVID-19, Pittsburgh was a ghost town. Traffic was non-existent. Basketball nets were taken down, removing the sounds of children from city parks. Grocery stores were akin to “The Handmaid’s Tale” as people shuffled in and out avoiding conversation and eye contact.
Almost everyone went silent. Almost everyone stayed inside.
But not Ray Nell Jones, CEO and founder of The Allignment Chapter in Penn Hills. Jones, 31, was on the road, as she has been for the last decade.
With her mouth covered by a mask and her hands full of detergent, diapers and paper towels, Jones drove around Pittsburgh delivering essentials to families in need and sent boxes to out-of-state single moms who cried out on social media that they, too, needed help.
One day in May, she logged onto what she thought was a virtual business meeting. Much to her surprise, it turned out to be an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” During the online appearance, which was the show’s Mother Day episode, Ellen presented Jones with a new Hyundai Santa Fe and plenty of goods to give to moms.
On top of that, Brawny Paper Towels acknowledged Jones on the show as one of the company’s “Giants” and donated even more household goods.
Jones has received other donations of varying amounts–a total of 144–from local organizations such as 100 Women of Pittsburgh and moms who have benefitted and seen the value of her work.
Gisele Barreto Fetterman, Second Lady of Pennsylvania and founder of Free Store 15104, is one Allignment Chapter donor, or as Jones calls them, life-savers.
“Ray Nell offers something that may be even more needed during times of hardship: compassion, support without judgment and a soft landing spot,” Fetterman says.
It’s the combination of Jone’s love of couponing, social media and helping people that propelled her to create personal and authentic connections with moms on Facebook and Instagram. She noticed that many pleas for help from moms were unanswered.
“The reason they’re going through this pain is because they’re suffering in silence,” says Jones of the women she observed on social media. “I’ve sat in that seat and know what it feels like. So every time I saw a mom silently struggling, I reached out. That’s how we expanded to over 22 states,” Jones says.
While online groups are a great way to galvanize moms, she believes in-person, organic relationships are necessary to meet the dire circumstances many single moms are facing.
Jones has delivered home cleaning goods, Pampers, baby formula and more to moms locally and in Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, California, Connecticut and New York. Pre-COVID, she took trips to visit her moms to provide that life-sustaining support.
Jasmine Jones, 26, a mom of three from Braddock, first messaged Ray Nell Jones a few years ago on Facebook and got a reply instantly. Ray Nell has been a source of power for Jasmine and her family ever since. Jasmine not only received baby formula and home cleaning goods but she took a big step in completing The Allignment Chapter’s six-week financial fitness webinar.
“I have learned a lot and the guidance she has and positive encouragement has been the most amazing thing. She really helped me begin to form a support system of people,” Jasmine says.
In addition to giving out essential products to moms, The Allignment Chapter hosts monthly webinars to help single moms develop financial resourcefulness with an “each one teach one” methodology.
“We have to show that we are trying to change by making the changes in our own lives. We have to be out here encouraging moms to get on their feet,” Jones says.
Jones was once a single mom who endured the many hardships, including at one point having her electricity cut off. That was the impetus for starting The Allignment Chapter, she says. She simply wanted to be the hero that she didn’t have in her life.
She recalls waking up one day and realizing two things: she hated her job and it was her family legacy to help people. She was inspired by her mom and grandmother who were always giving to neighbors and their local church in Homewood-Brushton where she grew up.