For Renita Marshall, the motivation to help children and families through their hardships sprouts from an early childhood memory.

“When I was 8 years old, I woke up on Christmas morning, and I had a free gift from Fingerhut in my stocking. And sure, there were other things in my stocking, but that was the one thing I remember. And I just remember thinking, ‘was I not good? Why don’t I get more toys?'”

Renita believes that every child deserves a present at the holidays. She founded the Renita Marshall Helping Hands Foundation, which provides assistance and supplies to families with children that are going through an unexpected financial hardship.

Her nonprofit kickstarted when she and a few friends provided Christmas presents for a neighbor’s children. “It just kind of snowballed, it wasn’t anything I went seeking, it just kind of fell into my lap, and grew from there every single year,” Renita says.

Renita was born and raised in Barre, Vermont. She says she greatly enjoys helping her community. Renita has always worked full-time, but never strayed from her dedication to Central Vermont children.

What motivates Renita is “knowing that a child is getting what they want. It is the most rewarding feeling.”

Renita’s nonprofit is all anonymous; someone nominates a family going through a tough time, and Helping Hands reaches out.

“You might be buying a present for your next-door neighbor and you don’t even know it,” Renita explains. “It is the greatest feeling to be able to do that, and the people who give, want to give, and it’s the most amazing thing, and they thrive on it. They want to be a part of it, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without our community,” she says.

And in turn, the community gave back to Renita. She’s been recognized for her work by a handful of associations, the Mayor of Barre, and even Governor Phil Scott.

“It always surprises me when I get recognition,” Renita says. “I have a really outgoing personality to everyone thinks I really do like the attention on me, but it’s odd for me when receiving compliments, and I don’t know why.”

Renita says that social media named the nonprofit after herself. Helping Hands wasn’t always an official foundation. Renita had been helping families for nearly 15 years before her nonprofit was incorporated in 2020.

But Renita wasn’t always sure of her foundation’s future. “I knew I just needed to take the chance, I was scared of, ‘what if I can’t do this, what if it fails, what if people don’t trust me, what if I don’t get any money.’ And I took that chance, and it was unbelievable the response I received,” she notes.

“My next goal will be eventually to keep growing so that we can support further outside our community,” and to help as many children as she can.

Right now, Helping Hands serves Central Vermont. Renita hopes to grow her foundation throughout the rest of the state.