By Ann Marie Shambaugh
Christina Huffines has a passion for redeeming coupons. After all, they’ve helped provide a fresh start in her life, and she wants them to make a difference for others who have a need, too.
After some poor decisions left the single mom penniless and on the move, she found she enjoyed clipping coupons to help make ends meet. She spent hours hunting for deals and soon accumulated more toiletries and other basic items than she could ever use herself – and at a fraction of the price.
That’s when the idea for Dotted Line Divas was born.
The nonprofit provides shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste and other necessities not typically available at food pantries for families in need. Huffines and her team of volunteers scour newspapers and other sources for coupons then strategically purchase those items for the lowest possible price.
At first, Huffines stockpiled the items in her Indianapolis home, but in January, the organization began renting storage space at 10411 N. College Ave. in Carmel. It celebrated with an open house last month.
“The support has been amazing, and we just keep growing faster than I ever imagined,” Huffines said.
Huffines spends approximately 40 hours each week couponing – all in addition to her job as a manager at a chiropractor’s office in Indianapolis. She collects 40 to 60 newspapers each week and visits websites to gather coupons.
“Usually Fridays and Saturdays I do nothing but shop at several different stores,” she said, adding that she spends, each month, approximately $800 to $1,000 out of pocket for items that retail for $5,000 to $7,000.
Huffines has found a sense of purpose and direction through her work with Dotted Line Divas, but it wasn’t always this way.
Born into a family that included drug dealers, alcoholics and even a bank robber who once appeared on the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted list, Huffines, 37, grew up in search of stability.
She didn’t find it, at least not right away. During her 20s, she had a son, suffered a bad accident that left her in a coma for one week, gave birth to a daughter and began a 10-year marriage to a much older man. After they divorced, she reconnected with a man who had been a classmate in grade school. They quickly got married, and she committed herself to helping him battle cancer.
Before long, she realized he had been lying about his health, and the money they had been raising for his alleged trips to an out-of-state treatment center was gone.
So she packed up and moved across town to be near her job in Carmel.
“I left with what I could fit of my clothes and my kids in my truck and moved up north with nothing,” she said.
That’s when she found Mercy Road Church in Carmel. The congregation had been providing assistance to families in need at Orchard Park Elementary, and Huffines said she reached out to see if they could provide additional help for her situation.
After connecting with church families and resources, Huffines began attending services at Mercy Road and embraced Christianity. She shared her plans for Dotted Line Divas with church leaders, and they were eager to help her succeed.
“She realized she didn’t just want to be the one getting help all the time,” Mercy Road lead pastor Josh Husmann said. “She wanted to give help to people like her.”
The church has helped provide funds for the organization to become an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit and provided $5,000 in matching funds to help pay for its rented space on College Avenue. Many of the Dotted Line Divas board members are affiliated with Mercy Road.
Huffines is thankful for the partnership with Mercy Road and has used her extreme couponing skills to benefit other church ministries.
But her reach through Dotted Line Divas extends well beyond Carmel. Her group has purchased and delivered items to some of the poorest zip codes in Kentucky, and she makes deliveries to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis. Other organizations she’s helped include Progress House, Jameson Camp and Food 4 Souls, among others.
As Dotted Line Divas continues to grow, Huffines said she is always looking for volunteers and is willing to share her knowledge if it helps others in need.
“I will teach anybody how to coupon,” she said. “Most people who teach coupon classes around town will charge people, but I will just ask for a donation for the pantry.”
Learn more about Dotted Line Divas, including how to receive help or become a volunteer, at DottedLineDivas.com.
Dotted Line Dive couponing tips
Christina Huffines offers the following tips for using coupons most effectively:
- Stay updated on the latest local rules at indycouponmama.com.
- Buy papers at Dollar Tree, and buy them in pairs for the buy one get one free or buy one get one 50 percent off sales.
- Start shopping at one or two stores, and master using coupons there first to avoid getting overwhelmed.
- Print out store policies, study them, and always have them with you.
- Most important tip: Always stay calm and be nice to cashiers.
- Email Huffines at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about available coupon classes.