ANTIOCH -- Shirley Tatum's childhood was filled with hardship. Her adulthood has been filled with efforts to alleviate it for others.
Tatum lost her mother when she was 2 months old and didn't meet her father until she was 24. She bounced among 11 foster homes in Berkeley, North Oakland and San Leandro, never wearing anything but secondhand clothes. At times, Tatum suffered physical and verbal abuse at the hands of her caretakers, and felt unloved and lost.
But, through it all, Tatum always had a desire to give to others. She says it goes back to when she was a child and found $5 in the street and bought candy for all the kids in the neighborhood. It continues today with her Wave Mission Team, a networking group she founded two years ago to help anyone with a need, large or small.
"My mom was born with certain gifts, and she's always been willing to share those gifts," said daughter Sihina Tatum-Taylor, of San Leandro.
The Wave Mission Team consists of about a dozen volunteers who help people in the community in many ways, including providing care packages and toiletries for students, holding donation drives and assisting people with needs such as furniture, clothes, baby diapers and formula, or a few bucks for utility bills or other expenses.
"Just because you may be told you're going to amount to nothing, you don't have to end up that way," Tatum, 60, said. "I'm blessed I have the mindset that I try to take things that are negatives and turn them into positives. It took awhile, but I had to find myself and let it go."
That giving spirit remained strong through her 31 years as a medical assistant.
"It's always been a part of her," said Alfred Tatum, her husband of 42 years. "Ever since I've known her, she's gone out of her way to help others. It's just natural for her."
"I wanted to make sure that no one suffers if they know me," Shirley Tatum said. "If there's a situation we can handle, we try to handle it."
Now retired, Tatum spends most of her days fielding phone calls, making jewelry or canvas paintings to help pay for volunteer efforts, and baby-sitting two granddaughters.
Most of the phone calls Tatum receives come from organizations referring people to the group for help. In turn, Tatum and the other group members network to provide resources.
"The Wave Team is her way of incorporating others," Sihina said. "There's strength in numbers."
Wave Team member Leona Glasgo met Tatum at a yard sale. The two struck a friendship, with Glasgo helping her create a newsletter.
"She began to utilize my skills," Glasgo said. "She inspires you to want to help others and make a difference."
During one conversation, Glasgo told Tatum she was stressed because she needed to sell $200 worth of Mary Kay cosmetics to cover her car note.
"Shirley told me 'let me get off the phone,' and called right back saying she had found someone who would buy $200 worth so I could pay my car note," Glasgo said.
Tamasha Daniels, who met Tatum at church, mentioned in passing during a phone call about helping others in late 2011 that she could not afford to replace a broken washer and dryer because money was tight.
The next week, Tatum presented her with new appliances.
"She's been such a true blessing," Daniels said.
The Wave Mission Team's largest program to date was held just before Christmas at Contra Costa Housing Authority's El Pueblo development in Pittsburg, where 100 families were treated to gifts for their children, hot chocolate and apple cider, a raffle, arts and crafts and a hula hoop contest.
"She was just very generous and sweet about it; she kept saying she wanted to bring joy," housing manager Nooral Clair said. "(Shirley) had an energy about her that you rarely see."
Tatum graduated from Bryan College in San Francisco and worked at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland for 31 years in the OB/GYN department.
After going on disability for arthritis, she joined Grace Bible Fellowship and became involved in the church's college ministry.
A Christian, Tatum says a "vision given" from God inspired her to start the Wave Team.
"She has always been a giver. That's just who she is," said General Sheppard, a family friend for 28 years.
Tatum gave back to the community as a member of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, and provided gifts to low-income children in San Leandro, and later Bay Point, he said.
Her involvement continued in Antioch.
Nicole Smith, a fellow Grace Bible churchgoer, said that Tatum has been an inspiration and mentor.
"Through her work with the Wave Team, and doing lot of it with money out of her pocket, it's pretty amazing. She's just helping a lot of people," Smith said.
Tatum said she isn't a fancy person and denies herself such luxuries as getting her nails done, going out to fancy meals and vacations so that the money can help others.
"We're pretty basic. I don't feel deprived, and instead, it's going toward helping others and maybe keeping them afloat."
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
Name: Shirley Tatum
Claim to fame: Tatum created the Wave Mission Team in 2012 to help provide those in need with financial assistance, appliances, counseling and other help.
Quote: "I want to make sure that no one suffers if they know me."
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