While you are probably here expecting some wonderful recipe for Christmas cookies or mouth watering photos of holiday feasts…today, I have a different story to tell. A story we re-live each and every year…a story that always begins with, “Remember when we were poor?” and ends with, “Look how far we’ve come.” A story that annually teaches us to remember where we once were.
“Remember when we were poor?”
He was 26 and fresh out of college.
I was 24 and still trying to find my way.
We quickly fell in love.
Together, we had high ambitions and dreams. Four months later, with a truckload of nothing, two CB’s, three cats and two ferrets, we headed out and moved across the country. No jobs. No money. But that didn’t matter.
We had love.
A gracious man gave us a chance…he surely must have saw SOMEthing in us to rent a two bedroom duplex to a couple who didn’t even have jobs. We thought it was a castle. I mean, TWO WHOLE bedrooms AND a fenced in yard WITH a garden AND a washer and dryer (even if they were in the kitchen?) Man…luck was really on our side.
Within days, we both found work. I was teaching at a private preschool; Kurt got a manager’s job at Kmart. We met neighbors, who were also transients, and became lifelong friends (friendships we still have to this day.) Things were…okay. Our bills were paid. Food was on the table each night. We lived in beautiful Colorado, for goodness sakes! Most importantly, we still had love.
A month later…”I’m pregnant.”
Nuclear bomb. KA-BOOM!
Shit just got real.
Monetarily, we went from “okay” to “don’t buy anything because I just paid the rent.” I worked up until I was seven months pregnant and just couldn’t do it any more. Aside from getting colds every two weeks from other people’s children, it was the single worst class of kids I had ever taught. Not to mention, the owner had “mistakenly” bounced paychecks which caused a huge chain reaction of events that had to be cared for. Fees here, fees there, reimbursement…enough was enough. Kurt was working twelve hour days, six days a week just to make ends meet. The week I left the preschool, Kurt got promoted to a higher level manager’s position. Funny how things always work out?
Summer comes, baby arrives, life is TOUGH. We now have three people living on one income and made EVERYTHING stretch: diapers, gas, food. Fortunately, we had the garden plot that gave us a variety of produce because grocery shopping trips were far and few. The few months before the baby arrived, I started receiving WIC vouchers (OH WIC…THANK GOD FOR WIC.) At least, we had milk, cheese, cereal, juice and peanut butter around. We ate a LOT of pasta…I mean, a LOT. It was cheap, filling and could always be tossed with butter, tomatoes and cheese. At the time, I don’t remember minding all that much. We still had love, ya know.
I continued to receive WIC for the first year of Jacob’s life. Looking back, I don’t what I would have done if it wasn’t for the formula checks from WIC. Even with coaching and nurse’s visits, the baby refused to breastfeed. How would he have been fed? I still couldn’t go back to work because we couldn’t afford child care. We were so thankful for the help that we continued to receive. Then, someone from the WIC office alerted me of a local food pantry. So, I went.
If you think it’s easy to go to a food pantry and gather goods for your family…you are quite mistaken. I had to tuck away my pride, strap my infant son on the front of me and wait in line. Every Thursday. There I waited…in the snow…with MANY other people: men, women, children, elderly and homeless. I’m not sure what would have happened to us without that pantry. Over the next year, I received so much more than food…I gained compassion, understanding and the selfless art of giving. We had nothing, but our neighbors had less than nothing. I would take them some of the food that I got at the pantry when they weren’t able to go themselves. If I couldn’t help others with what was helping me, then I knew I had life all wrong.
It’s now our baby’s first Christmas and we qualified for extra boxes at the pantry. Hold onto your hats…the box contained a beef roast. A BEEF ROAST. We were about to have a “real” Christmas dinner. Thankfully, Jacob was only five months old so gifts pretty much consisted of things we had to buy anyway: a package of diapers, wipes and a bathtub toy. I wrapped them anyway just to have something under the tree. But dinner? We were having one.
As I sorted through the rest of the “extra” food box, I realized that this was the kind of food box that is made of collections from elementary schools. Food donated just like when I was little and used to bring in food to donate! Canned veggies, potatoes and bean soup mixes measured out and made by the hands of little kids. Oh my god…we were on the RECEIVING end. All I could do was put my head in my hands and cry. Thankful, but embarassed…thoughts of kindness collided with thoughts of “how in the world did I ever get in this position.” Then, at the bottom of the box peeking out between the cans, I noticed a snowman face smiling at me. I pushed aside the cans and pulled out a handmade ornament. An ornament made from a juice lid…maybe by a child? Maybe by a teacher? Immediately, I recomposed myself, stood up and hung it at the top of our Christmas tree. For fourteen years now, that is where the ornament hangs each Christmas.
About two years ago, Kurt looked at the ornament on the tree and said, “What was this again?” With wide, loving, almost teary eyes, I looked at him and said, “Remember the food pantry?” “OH, yessss…”, he replied.
“Look how far we’ve come.”
**If you know me or follow me in social media, you have probably seen how much I support food pantries…and why my interest lies so heavily on food. Not everyone who uses government help is “stupid, lazy & jobless.” Food pantries are used by all ages and all walks of life. Sometimes you just need that little extra push to help get you over the next hill in life. During the holidays, please remember to be thankful when you are sitting around your dinner table. And, in your giving, please include a few items to your local pantry. Happy Holidays my friends, however you may celebrate.**