From the outside, the home appears to be just another of the ranch-style homes typical of this part of northern New Jersey suburban landscape. Inside, however, lives have been transformed daily for over 30 years thanks to a remarkable woman named Kathy DiFiore. Based on this inspirational story, Gimme Shelter opens in theaters across the country on January 24, 2014.
In 1981 DiFiore, who was once homeless herself, was looking for a way to give friendship and spiritual support to other people in need. Inspired by the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (“Make me a channel of Your Peace. Where there is darkness, let me sow light.”), she invited a homeless mother-to-be to live with her. Wanting to do more, she decided to turn her home into a shelter for pregnant women.
But the State of New Jersey raided it, levying huge fines for running an illegal boarding house. In desperation, she reached out to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Together, these two brave and tenacious women fought the state and eventually got the law changed.
Over the years, that first simple act of generosity has grown into Several Sources Shelters, a network of five shelters throughout New Jersey that has nurtured and protected more than 2,000 young women and their unborn and newborn children, as well as a free sonogram center, and a 24-hour national hotline that provides help and guidance to women across the country.
DiFiore has received accolades from three U.S. presidents and was invited to the White House by President Reagan. Now, this unassuming woman’s decades of quiet dedication have moved an acclaimed filmmaker to create Gimme Shelter, an inspirational movie based on the stories of the mothers with whom she works.
When DiFiore was recently honored for her work by the United Nations, she met writer and director Ronald Krauss, who makes documentaries and narrative feature films about critical social issues. “The core of my work deals with stories that hit life head on,” he says. “My films deal with themes about life, compassion and hope. DiFiore has committed her life to helping the less fortunate.”
After years of turning down media requests, DiFiore surprised herself by inviting Krauss to visit a shelter. A woman of deep and abiding faith, she saw something special in her new acquaintance and allowed him unprecedented access.
“I found him to be an unusual person, unique in Hollywood,” she says. “He’s a true humanitarian with a sincere interest in children and their problems. For the first time, I’d met someone I trusted with the most precious thing in my life: these mothers and their babies. He’s been a blessing.”
After a year with his subjects, Krauss wove together the experiences of several of the young women he met into Gimme Shelter, the story of Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant, homeless teen, who is turned away by her family and finds refuge in a shelter much like DiFiore’s.
The film received a boost in visibility when Vanessa Hudgens, star of Disney’s internationally successful High School Musical franchise, beat out several other well-known actresses for the lead. Hudgens knew it could be the most challenging role of her career, but she never dreamed of the change it would make in her perspective on the world.
To prepare for the part, she moved into the shelter and lived by the same tough rules as the residents. “At first it was a little rough,” Hudgens admits. “Being among girls as young as 15 who were pregnant or had babies was a new experience. But as they opened up to me, I realized that we were all the same. It was super humbling and made me feel really grateful for what I have, especially my parents.”
Hudgens found DiFiore’s commitment to her charges inspiring as well. “When we see someone doing a great job serving others, we should recognize them and honor them,” says the actress and pop singer. “We’re all in this together and everybody needs a helping hand.”
For Kathy DiFiore, the film is not just an opportunity to raise awareness of the alternatives available to pregnant teens, but also a call to action. “I just hope the film inspires other people to help young women by giving them shelter and a helping hand,” she says. “That would be the epitome of my goal with this project.”
Gimme Shelter will be in theaters nationwide on January 24, 2014 and has been rated PG-13.
For more information on the film, visit the Gimme Shelter Official Site.
To find out more about Kathy DiFiore and Several Sources Shelters, please go to Several Sources.net.