The Story of a Modern Day Erin Brockovich

Facing Hunger in Manhattan, Kansas

There is no such thing as a normal day at the Breadbasket. I get up in the morning, get my daughter ready, and bring her to daycare and then I come to work. I spend the first hour working with the intern, talking about what happened yesterday, what happened over the weekend, and what kind of policies changed. We then have our staff meeting. Things are constantly coming up and we have to address that issue. From there, we open up the front room where clients come to meet with me and receive food. You can help any where from five to twenty-five people. Five to twenty five different situations.

The other day I was joking that I am like Erin Brockovich, portrayed by Julia Roberts in the Erin Brockovich movie. At one point in the movie, she gets fired up about her own knowledge of her clients and says, “Pick a file, any file, I can tell you their name address and phone number.” I am literally like that. Pick a file and I can tell you their address, their story, what the client’s needs are, how long they have been with us, who is in their family, what job they are looking for, and what I asked them to bring for the next time. I don’t know how I know it, but I do.

I invest in our clients, I listen, and I want to know their stories. It is so important. I feel like it makes clients more comfortable to come in here and get the help that they need. When they share their stories with me, I am then able to connect them to resources that they need. I create a friendship with them, but I am careful not to cross the line and to still be professional. Still, making the connection is part of my job.

The people I work with have taught me so much about being compassionate and caring for our clients and their stories. They really open my eyes and make me consider other things before I pass judgment. I think that sometimes the three of us who work here get really frustrated with some of the policies that are passed because we get to see firsthand how they affect people. We sit here every single day and realize that the policy makers’ perception of the problem is not one hundred percent accurate.

Working here has definitely changed my outlook. I would still say that I am a very conservative person. I work really hard and most of my and my husband’s money goes to daycare. But you know I wish more than anything I could stay home with my daughter. That is not reality, so I have to get up and come to work every day. I still have some of those core beliefs, but now I understand that sometimes you can’t get a job because you are only getting paid $7.25 and you can’t afford day care. It’s not like that person can get up and go find a job because they have two kids to take care of and they can’t do that if they are working and not getting paid enough for childcare. So this job has really opened my eyes to reality.

I didn’t always know that this is what I wanted to do. I graduated from K-State with a degree in both history and family studies. At different points in my life I wanted to work in a museum or be a sex therapist. My first job out of college was working with the foster care system and family preservation. I did not feel like I had adequate training or experience and it was an incredibly hard job. At that point I was so turned off by social services, but I am so glad that I found it here.

This job is so wonderful. Because I am working here, I am now getting my Master’s degree in Public Administration. I eventually want to do more managerial type work, like what my boss does, and if I have my Master’s it will allow me to do that later on. You know working in a museum or being a sex therapist those were jobs I thought I wanted to do, but I feel like this job is something that I was called to do. Being here working with people who have low income and need help, this is what I am meant to do.

As told to Magen Witcher

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