Photo courtesy of Single Mom Defined.

Heather Hopson wants to make life easier for single mothers in Allegheny County.

Through the parenting group, Single Mom Defined, Hopson created a support system for local women that includes a babysitting cooperative, a meal delivery service and other community resources.

Single Mom Defined arose from Hopson’s 2018 photo essay and video series art installation featuring more than 100 Black moms with their kids. It was her way of conveying the real story behind the images and counteracting the negative stereotypes.

Before the Covid crisis, the private Facebook page for the group had 600 members; now there are more than 1,700 women of all ages, ethnicities and religious affiliations.

“We are moms who need to not only take care of our children but also take care of ourselves,” says the founder of Motor Mouth Multimedia. “All moms deserve a night off from cooking. All moms deserve paid family and medical leave in case they do get sick during these turbulent times. And all moms need a village: to vent, to support, to cheer on, to navigate this pandemic together.”

According to the 2016 Fephisphere report published by the Women and Girls Foundation, approximately 77 percent of impoverished households in Pittsburgh are headed by single moms.

After analyzing the Qualitative Study of Single Mothers in Allegheny County, Single Mom Defined surveyed members to ask what they needed to thrive and succeed.

Many mothers expressed the desire for opportunities to connect with other moms, resources and advocacy opportunities. But obstacles such as lack of childcare, transportation, and/or money prevented them from doing so.

A countywide babysitting cooperative, based in Beltzhoover, Clairton, East End and Homewood, was established among members to meet those needs. Single Mom Defined also supports co-op members by supplying strategies and training through the local nonprofit, Trying Together. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all activities are virtual.

Last month, Hopson teamed up with Naomi Ritter of the EAT Initiative and 412 Food Rescue to host a weekly virtual dinner party for single moms.

With support from the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the first Moms Night Off event was held on November 19. Guided by the Food Rescue Hero app, a small army of volunteers delivered three-course, family-style meals, along with healing facial masks and sugar scrubs, to about 120 members of the parenting group.

“Being a single mom during the pandemic has taken stress to a new level,” says member Leah Walker. “Not having to worry about Saturday night meals has allowed me time for not only self-care but family fun night. We appreciate Single Mom Defined for ‘getting it.’”

Last Saturday, the moms got “Self-Care Check-In,” a guided journal written by Pittsburgh native GG Renee Hill. Moms logged on to the virtual dinner party for a writing workshop facilitated by the author. They learned how to record their personal stories and advocate for their family’s needs, such as the national Paid Leave for All campaign.

Throughout December, moms are also joining in yoga sessions led by Alecia Young Yoga Motif and Yvette Shipman of MOTEASA.

Photo courtesy of Single Mom Defined.

“When you run in 1,000 directions and give of yourself, a meal provided not only nourishes our bodies but also our souls,” member Tori Snyder says.

“The kindness and support are generously given by Single Mom Defined, and the meals given mean more than just a meal. It’s a chance to relax and enjoy our children.”

On December 26th, moms will receive bath and body products and essential oils as well as children’s toys donated by IKEA Pittsburgh.

Hopson is working to obtain funding to continue the Moms Night Out events throughout 2021. She’s now recruiting volunteers. Want to help? Send an email to 412 Food Rescue and say you want to support the single mothers initiative. Monetary donations can be made online.

“Coronavirus has impacted all families, but especially those led by women–4x as many women as men have left the workforce since Covid-19 emerged,” said Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation which is a partner in Single Moms Defined. “Women, Black and Brown women especially, are more likely to be front line workers without access to paid leave. With increasing caregiving responsibilities at home, as a result of online schooling and child care center closures, single moms are having a harder time navigating this turbulent time. We hope Moms Night Off can provide a reprieve while engaging moms in advocating for the policies they and their families need to thrive.”

Tifanee-Rae Young is a support group member as well as a volunteer driver. “The weekends are a time to relax, yet I choose to show other moms that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed,” she says. “Delivering the meals and seeing the smiles on everyone’s face makes everything worthwhile.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.