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“How do you know they are in need?”: Doubt can foster support. Disbelief convicts the believer. Welcome the challenge.

October 14, 2013

It would indisputably be “easier” to stimulate and generate acts of relief and assistance for a “visibly” impoverished community of people then for that of a small percentage of an economically healthy one.



Grant me the liberty, please, of sharing with you a scenario that I have been struggling to compose to effectively illustrate and convey to those who have, are & will wonder “Why?”. 



You live in a community that is a melting pot of ethnicities, religious beliefs, and economic backgrounds.  You are sitting at an elementary school program, perhaps one of those adorable musicals where the trees, animals, moon and stars are our children.  Looking around the gym you think nothing of the diversity around you:  women fully robed, their head respectively covered; men in their appropriate Jewish orthodox attire, black hat and black suiting worn with pride; multiple couples of same sex parents; parents that you know walked to the school from the projects across town; you see brown, black, olive and bleach white skin (possibly my Irish relations :-).  You know a bit of some of these families’ plights and a small snippet of a few of their “stories”.  You are in the minority to be sitting there able to fully focus on the entertainment that is about to begin, not worried about possible eviction, recent health scare, impending layoff, or any addiction or mental health challenges in your family.  The social differences between the parents in this gym are visibly clear to you, the common denominator that puts you all on equal ground tonight is that you are here to experience a moment with a child that you care very much about.  You often drive through certain areas of your town that are known to be riddled with trials, violence, and economic instability.  You cross paths with some of these same parents as they wait on you at the local restaurant or fast food establishment, at the gas station, the food store and the bank.  Minimum wage jobs that provide a paycheck, an insufficient one for the cost of raising a family, but with them holding these jobs your meal is served, your paycheck is deposited, you can fill your gas tank and pick up your paper in the comfort of your own community.



Now let’s change the location to the Oakwood/River Valley gym and the persons sitting around you live here in the neighborhoods of Lemont.  Take a peek at those filling the seats around you.  Not very much cultural or ethnic diversity.  Not even a melting pot of religious beliefs.  Economic differences?  They are easily hidden (to their hopes) by those who are inhibited to share their struggles.  Unless each of us had to wear a post-it note on our forehead communicating our specific daily battles, you would not be aware of the vast differences and personal struggles that are represented in our community. 


If were the case, some of these post-it notes that you would be worn would read:

·      I am a grandmother raising my grandchildren.  I thought I had finished my parenting of young children, yet now find myself older, financially strained, and a parent to my physically ill/jailed/inept/deceased child’s children.  I am tired.


·      I suffer from depression.  It took a great battle for me to even walk into this gym.   Every single day is a battle. 


·      My husband left 14 months ago and refuses to pay support.  I smile on the outside, but am struggling desperately, financially and emotionally.


·      My teenager suffers from a bi-polar disorder.  Our home life is a daily challenge. 


·      We bought our dream home just 8 years, when times were great.  I have since lost my job, I have been unable to secure one that is even near what I was earning, I have failed my family.  Living as a one salary household has just driven us into a downward spiraling pit of debt.  I feel like I was blindsided and can’t find a way to stop the descent. 


·      We had the baby, then he decided to leave.  My $10 an hour job is not enough to afford rent, utilities, food, diapers, and childcare.  I can’t even afford to go back to school to try and better life for myself, and my child. 


·      Two deaths of my immediate family within months.  No parent should bury their young child.  To utter the word widow/widower cripples me.   Even though for now my kids and I are financially comfortable, I find it hard to even perform the most common tasks.  I wear a smile, but inside I’m broken and lost.


·      My husband has returned from his second tour.  He thought for sure this was the career option that would provide for our family, but is has been nothing but an emotional and financial struggle. 


·      These are supposed to be our golden years.  Retirement has been nothing but battles with health issues, juggling medical bills and trying to survive on a higher than we expected cost of living on our very fixed income.  Our kids live in other states and we cannot afford to visit.  We don’t want them to know how depressed and alone we are. We don’t want to be a burden.  We have neighbors that have allowed us to share this moment tonight with their family. 


·      I have plenty of money.  I hold a great job that I love.  I have no family to speak of.  I have only distant relatives in distant areas of the country.  I am here tonight because I heard of the chance to be surrounded by laughter and families.  Otherwise I’d just be spending more time working at home, alone. 


·      Every time I think we have climbed above the line for the last time and are on our way to not ever asking for help again something knocks us down:  a car repair, having to lose paid days from work when the kids get sick, the costs of trying to allow our kids similar advantages experienced by their peers (sports, school clubs, social activities as well as the continuing cost of school supplies, school assigned projects, clothing and shoes).  It is so depressing when the money earned is so rarely more than the costs demanded. 



Hope and Friendship Foundation’s mission is to be a conduit of financial, physical, and emotional assistance from those that have to those that need.  In 2005, I was blessed to move forward through, and have survived, what was the most emotionally draining, eye opening, life changing two years of my life allowing me to experience trials and stresses, that though are not welcomed, most definitely helped to form an incredibly solid and extraordinarily important emotional and faith-strong foundation for myself, and my kids.   Trials and Stresses are not absent but I feel stronger, more in tune with my priorities, and more committed to being present and accountable from having moved through those chapters.  I count as one of my greatest blessings to have been able to remain in what I perceived (and still do to this day) as an extremely caring, kind, and generous community. Because of my learned appreciation of how quickly life’s blows can take the wind from you, I became very attentive, concerned and impassioned to help those who struggle. I was aware that there were homes that had that ability to offer, and respectively homes that had many voids and needs that could easily be met with what would be simply surplus from another’s. 



As time passed, I was humbled to be trusted as a confident to those who were walking through a very difficult chapter of their own life, simply a welcoming set of ears, a ounce of council, or just the need to be one’s friend.  So often nothing more than having someone to unload to was the objective, yet at times I was able to share their story (with anonymity) and meet their particular need.  However, as Hope and Friendship has grown in strength and numbers, of those helping and those who have been helped, so has the challenge to be completely transparent yet not betray the trust and vulnerability of those who have humbly confided their personal trials with me, their stories.  We all have a story.  Some of us have mounted great obstacles and rode them to fantastic success.  Some of us have hit the speed bumps and had to slow down at places in our life, but then in time we have regained strength and fortune and now enjoy a comfortable life in a wonderful community.  Than there are others that just cannot seem to get a break.  Yes, there are those that seemingly self-combust, and those that purely make bad choices, but the majority of needs of the friends I personally know and love are needs we truly can meet and that are sincerely just a matter of “bad luck”, a result of being continually knocked to the mat.  Some of our “stories” can be enviously misconstrued as “fairy tale life” and others can only be accurately defined as “nightmares”.  Some of the parents in these homes feel like a flat rock thrown across the pond continually skimming the top of the water line between surviving and sinking.   I wholeheartedly admire those that can fall down 7 times and get up 8.  It is a fact that the strongest of trees are the ones that have the deepest roots and sturdiest trunks only from having had to survive the more perilous storms and challenging climate.  One can and hopefully is inspired by this truth. 



I have been reflecting on this topic for the past few weeks knowing that the busiest season of my year has already presented itself.  The “Winter Clothing/Kitchen Needs Drive” leads right into preparation for “The day that Turkeys fly” (gifting uncooked turkeys, and some basic needs to those that can use that Thanksgiving gift”), (in between the holidays we take time to “Duck, Dive, and Dodge for Donations”) then we move to the Christmas Care Box Collection to accompany the Christmas Day Dinner & Care Box Deliveries.  Indisputably my favorite, yet most physically and emotionally exhausting seasons, of the year, I have had post-Christmas illness every year but only because I have unequivocally committed myself body, spirit and soul to what I believe is true and needed and I have laid my head down at night, or awakened on December 26th, knowing that I have done what I have been called to do.  This year I am hoping to ride the waves of busyness and not be taken down by them.  I am older and (and crossing my fingers) wiser, and more determined to make greater ripples in the most effective and efficient way, I am very blessed to have so many that have offered their support in the most valuable form of time and effort.  We are sure to have the best and most amazing season of compassionate sharing ever!



Which leads me to the reason I am writing this message to you, prior to the deluge you will receive of my many requests to help meet needs here within your arm’s reach.  I know I will again hear:   “How do you know they are in need?”  I will see doubt and cynicism and that is ok and expected.   I welcome your challenge, and questions, however, I will not share their story to verify the need.   Instead I will refer this writing to you and ask you to look over the post-it note scenarios.  They are based on just a few of the real and actual challenges within homes around you. 



Those we offer these “acts of kindness” to may be able to afford a Thanksgiving Turkey or Christmas Dinner, but have allowed me to convince them to let us do the cooking for the day while they move through this first holiday without their father/child/spouse, “we” will meet an emotional need met.  The elderly couple with no family close by, the family who has a physically disabled or seriously ill child, spouse or live-in parent might be able to afford to put a Christmas Dinner on the table but isn’t an unconditional offering the true meaning of Christmas? To give a gift with no expectations of something in return?  We can assist these households with the work involved and offer a gift of physical assistance.   Some assisted by minimal SNAP benefits and/or the Lemont Food Pantry non-perishable offerings will not have that extra amount of $30, or more, to purchase and prepare the “normal” holiday meal.   It simply will not happen.  For most of the households we offer donations of clothing/kitchen needs and food to you are meeting a very real deficit with this financial relief by providing them with more than needs for their family and food for the table, you are offering nourishment for their spirits. 



As we launch the Hope and Friendship Fall/Winter events: “Winter clothing/Kitchen need Collection” (ending 10/31/13); “The Day the Turkeys fly” (11/26/13); “Duck, Dive, Dodge for Donations (personal care & cleaning products)” (12/5/13); and the “Christmas Day Dinner & Care Box (of personal needs & cleaning products) Delivery” (12/25/13) I ask that you consider helping to make these simple, yet so very appreciated and needed, offerings possible by donating what you can to meet the very real needs of friends here in Lemont.  My hope is that you consider though a need or struggle isn’t clearly evident to you, if it were you to experience a life changing period of either financial, physical, or emotional trials would you want your story to be shared to prove your hardship?  I hope there would be simple and quiet acts of kindness and giving from “friends” which would meet immediate needs for your family.  Perhaps you would be so inspired to in turn assist another in the near future in the same way, paying it forward.  Many that we have delivered dinners to in the past 8 years have, and do, help to make these events possible each year. 



Life can change from comfortable to combative in the blink of an eye.  May you be assisted, if that happens, by those who have the grace and compassion to offer what they can, when the can, however they can, without judgment and with pure unconditional mercy and generosity, if not everyday, then minimally for these next few months, for the true reason of this season of this time of the year.   



James 2:1-5, 12-13:  “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?


Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?


Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”




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One Comment
  1. As we close in on the Christmas Dinner & Care Box deliveries I revisited this hoping to open to door to generosity and close it to judgement. We will never truly know the difficulty of one’s path unless we are walking in their shoes.

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