For LaShenda Williams, things are finally starting to look brighter for her future for the first time. Williams was a homeless woman in Tennessee, who had been sleeping in a Nashville Kroger parking lot in her 2015 Kia Forte since late 2018. And in an amazing turn of events, she now works for that same Kroger Grocery Store, making enough money to have her own apartment.
Williams was originally from Alabama and had moved to Nashville when she was only 19-years-old. She became addicted to crack cocaine, had a limp because she had cerebral palsy, and also had a learning disability that made it difficult to read or write. So she did what she could and worked odd jobs such as cooking or housecleaning. After she got treatment for her drug addiction, she couldn’t afford her own place, explaining that she would, “live from place to place or stay in abandoned houses.”
With the money she made, she would be able to go into the East Nashville Kroger to get something to eat and drink, saying, “I felt blessed on the days when I could walk into that store and get something to eat and drink and hear a kind ‘hello’ from somebody working there. I’ve always felt safe there.”
But when nighttime would come, Williams would park her car in the store’s parking lot, explaining, “It was open 24 hours and the lot was always lit up at night. I figured I’d be safe there. I’d hunker down in my seat to sleep and nobody could see me. For more than a year, hardly anybody bothered me — I’d grab my little blue blanket and curl up.”
After spending the last year in the Tennessee Kroger parking lot, Williams saw a flier that the grocery store was hiring. So she saw an opportunity, and in hoping for the best, she went inside to ask the Kroger hiring manager Jackie Vandal about being one of the first applicants for the upcoming job, saying, “Maybe I could work here one day. You got room for me?”
Vandal followed a gut feeling and immediately said she would help Williams fill out an application. They sat together and worked through all the questions on Williams’ application on her old laptop, with Vandal sitting patiently while guiding Williams through it.
“I was filling everything out the best I could, and Ms. Vandal could see that I was having a hard time,” she said, “She came over to help me and said, ‘Don’t you worry — we’re going to help you to get back on your feet.’” And when the confirmation came through that Williams had successfully applied, Vandal, again, immediately told her the good news, “You’re hired.”
“I couldn’t believe it — I hugged her and cried,” Williams said, “It was overwhelming. Somebody gave me a chance.”
And the 46-year-old made the most of her opportunity. After working for five months as a self-checkout associate, she had finally saved enough money to get her own one-bedroom apartment. And the community didn’t stop at giving her a job to help her. As co-workers and customers came together to help her furnish her new place, her story became popular enough way beyond her fellow team members at the Kroger Nashville division, with the Kroger website and last month’s Tennessean featuring her story.
Verlenteez Williams (no relation) learned of LaShenda’s situation and posted on a private East Nashville Facebook group page asking for help. In an overwhelming amount of responses from people wanting to help, he was not surprised that people wanted to help make a positive impact.
“I met [LaShenda] in passing while shopping at the Kroger, and she always said ‘hello’ and had a smile,” he said, “I knew I had some things [to donate], and I figured since she’d been a delight to me, there were surely other people who felt the same as I did.”
Williams works from 7:30 am-4:30 pm five days a week. She commented, “I have a home to drive to!” she said. “I’m so happy to still be here — I’m grateful to be alive. No matter what I’ve been through, I’m still standing.”