As told to Cathy Shouse Journalist, novelist, author of Images of America Fairmount & Community Blogger for The Star Press
Being 79 years old and a retired nurse, I have seen hardships over the years and have helped people whenever I could. I don’t think any of that prepared me for the extreme difficulties suffered by a family I’m currently trying to help through Christian Ministries. Over the months that I have known them, one situation is etched on my memory more than all the others.
I met them because there was a fire in their home just before Christmas, and the Red Cross put them in a hotel for three nights. Their plight touched my heart from the start. The single mother is so young, maybe 30 or 35, and must deal with her own cancer, plus the loss of her home, plus having a little girl with leukemia. She had lived in a rental and everything was destroyed. They had just what was on their backs. She has three sons and the daughter with leukemia.
This was just a different experience for me and it affected me deeply. I go to a church on the north side and I shared with my friends in the choir how great their needs were. We opened up our hearts and have helped them however we can.
I made several trips to their new apartment to see how little they have and to think about ways to help. It has bothered me lately, to realize how difficult their lives are, to see that they had no beds. We gave them mattresses that they put on the floor. There were not enough blankets so they were all huddling together. To think of me with my feet up and them there like that.
I have given her what I can and will continue to do so. I was telling my hairdresser that they didn’t have towels and she brought some to give to them. I will think, “Why would I keep these things back when someone can use them?” I’m so thankful for what I have and now I’m more thankful. It really makes you see things differently. I’m certainly not wealthy. I had a nice job and my husband did, too. I have so much and they have so little.
We’re trying to make her life better than what it was before the fire. We stocked her kitchen with a crockpot and gave her tableware. When she opened that drawer, she said, “We don’t have to have plastic forks and spoons anymore and wash them as soon as we use them!” She’s so thankful for everything she gets.
With the cancer, she gets so tired. She’s on chemotherapy and she does have to lie on that mattress sometimes. I just want to do everything I can for her. I took her a plant and she said, “Oh, I love plants.” It brightened up the room.
I asked her what she was missing that she lost in the fire. She said she missed board games a lot and a lady from our church got them board games. She was given a small T.V. ,which she has in her bedroom. We’re working on getting a TV that is pretty good sized for her living room.
She said, “That would be so nice that the whole family could sit and watch TV together.”
Fortunately, her ex-husband helps with the children. There are some days when she feels too sick to care for them.
The hardest part, the day I felt in my bones just what poverty is like, was when the little girl was really sick and was taken to Riley Children’s Hospital. They were changing the mother’s meds and she was so weak. She wanted to be with her daughter but was so sick herself. She had a friend drive her to Riley to be with her daughter and just sit in a chair beside her. She was feeling terrible and the love for her child led her to make that journey just to be with her. It was heartbreaking.
You think, “My goodness, she needs so much help and so much prayer.” I just think it’s overwhelming.
I think, “Well, there’s no end in sight just now, but she’s so pleased with what she has, even if we left it at that, she would be better off. “
We have to work with uplifting these people and help them realize that they are significant — let people know how important it is to help each other. We have to do that. God expects that of us and we want to do it. I have received a gift from her in return, a lesson in gratitude, and the chance to witness true courage and love in the midst of tremendous struggles.
Read the original story on the Facing Poverty Facing Project Page.
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The Facing Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. The organization’s model to share stories and raise awareness is in cities across the United States focused on topics such as poverty, sex trafficking, mental health, immigration, and more. Facing Project stories are compiled into books and on the web for a community resource, used to inspire art, photography, monologues and—most importantly—community-wide awareness, dialogue, action, and change toward a more understanding and empathetic society.