Until March 16th when I lost my job, I was employed full-time since I was 15 years old. I started out on a work-study program in high school and have never collected unemployment. Since 1997 I’ve worked as a virtual admin under the name, The Write Hand, as a side business for fun-money, but today it’s for survival. With so many life changes over the past 8 to 10 years, it’s nerve wracking to know that there is no cushion in the bank and my 401k has been depleted. I stopped counting how many resumes I submitted when the email folder reached 153 confirmation messages. I deleted that folder, I looked around my apartment and realized, “All this could be gone in an instant.” I had a good cry, I jumped on my Harley and rode all alone for nearly 250 miles. (She is the last thing I will sell if it comes down to it). It was a rough time, but I woke up on April 1st and told myself, “April Fool you are NOT.” I thought that was a good day to make a change in attitude, a change in focus, and a change in my life for the better (so I’m hoping).
This struggle has undoubtedly been the worse I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m not a lazy person, I’ve worked hard at one, two, and three jobs since I was 15. I’ve paid my taxes as I should, I’ve supported more charitable causes than I could even count if I tried, I’ve made food, passed out food, and donated food to those in need. I’ve been the mouth and promoter for so many worthy causes that I’ve been dubbed, the pusher. I was once given a t-shirt by a dear friend that said, “Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again.” Now I have never been what you might call wealthy, but I have never been in dire need either. I have always considered myself blessed and I try religiously to not ever take anything or anybody for granted.
Circumstances in the past two months have brought me to a place where my appreciation for the good life and my appreciation for my friends has grown exponentially. It’s said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, great googally moogally ~ that’s the dern truth. I’ve always been frugal, use coupons, catch sales, shop at thrift stores, and never really went hog-wild on spending (ok, my 1902 Hoosier cabinet was a hefty $2,500 investment and for several years I was a scrapbook nut buying all the gadgets and gizmos to preserve my memories). Even my Harley was a mere $4,000 not tens of thousands like so many spend.
My 401k runneth out… With May rent, utilities, insurance and the like there of, the funds have nearly evaporated. I have found myself in the past several weeks selling things on eBay and collecting stuff for a yard sale, while also researching opportunities where I can receive assistance from various organizations.
ComEd & Nicor (utility providers in IL) gave me a connection to CEDA, where I applied for the LIHEAP utility grant. Both of those utility grants were approved and credits were made to my utility bills. Oddly though, as I’ve always been on the budget billing program, the grants basically cleared up the remain balances from the budget carry-over and in June I’ll have to pay my utilities as usual. So it’s still a win, even if it’s not going to help me month-to-month.
Something I never imagined needing… food stamps, or as it’s called here in Illinois, the LINK card. I stood in the DHS office for nearly four hours but was approved for the card. What a humbling experience to say the very least. I maintain the gruff attitude that I’ve paid my taxes over the years and why shouldn’t I get help from the state… Maybe that’s just my way of coping.
And my ultimate point for today’s blog post… I registered yesterday for our local food pantries in Lemont, Illinois. Humbling – HA! If it weren’t for people like Terri O’Neil Borders of Hope and Friendship Ministries (she also works for the Village of Lemont), the process of asking for help could be rather degrading or at least ooze of defeat. But NOT SO. I’ve known Terri from town, events, and mutual friends for nearly two years at this point, but to go into her office to register for food pantry help, believe me – was not easy. She is one of the messengers that God has given this messed up world to show us all that there is still HOPE. In partnership with Bethany Lutheran Church, United Methodist Church, and Chipain’s Fresh Market, the food pantry services in our town has not only stocked my cabinets, but has made me proud of all the work I did for others in the past, because you just never know who may need your help. And be assured that when my circumstances improve, I’ll be right back at it in full force.
I still have moments of doubt and feelings of anxiety, but I wake up everyday between 6:30 and 7:30 to get moving on my virtual admin business and to promote The Write Hand. I have one steady client for whom I do Quickbooks, web edits with Power DNN and much more. I have one regular yet random client for whom I do transcription of entertainment interviews. I clean house for my neighbor sporadically and one other house recently. I do make some money, but at present it is not enough to maintain my fairly simple life. YET I WILL NOT GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT!!!
My call to action for everybody that reads this post: Buy a few extra things when you’re at the grocer and donate them to your local food pantry. A great many grocers have a donation box right in their store. Or take a quick moment now to find the closest food pantry to your home and drop a few items once or twice a month. With economics as they’ve been in recent past, many food pantries are suffering because donations have dwindled while the need is growing higher. You may not consider some standard items as luxuries, but for some a simple stick of deodorant ($1.99- $3.49 average) takes a back seat to a can of veggies and a can of tuna. Do I want to eat or smell good? Hmmm….. some people have to think this way. Be blessed that you don’t.
Maybe you don’t have a pet or a young child, nor are you a senior, so perhaps you may not consider some of these things when you shop and perhaps never even go down these aisles at your grocer. I offer you some FOOD for THOUGHT when shopping to donate.
- Toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrushes, denture adhesive, denture cleaner, deodorant, soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion…
- Household: glass cleaner, toilet cleaner, floor cleaner, dish soap, dish rags, sponges…
- Child care: formula, baby food, diapers, rash cream, lotions, soaps…
- Paper products: feminine products, adult under protection, paper towels, napkins, paper plates, cups, bowls, flatware, (most state programs like LINK do not allow paper product purchases or they are limited, same with cleaning supplies)
- Other: pet food, spices, mayo, mustard, ketchup, package mixes, gravies, broths, tea bags, juices..
When buying non-perishable foods anything is appreciated, however I encourage you to consider the options that may lean more on the healthy side. Remember the U.S.A. is the most obese country in the world. And consider this when you see folks that are using a LINK card, food stamps, or other subsidized means – typically speaking the cheapest food items are not usually the healthiest. You may think somebody with meager means to eat should be super skinny, that is NOT the way it works out. A mother can stretch a box of Tuna Helper to feed herself and perhaps 1 or 2 kids (measly portions I assure you). It does not contain all that much nutrition and is high in artificial junk. For the same cost of that can of tuna and Tuna Helper box that a kind person bought and donated, a purchase could be made of two cans of tuna, plus two or three cans of veggies.
I am not exactly proud to say I am collecting the goods and services that I’ve mentioned, but I am proud of who I am, all that I’ve ever done for others, and all that I am trying to do to improve my situation. After a stressful and heartbreaking week of swallowing my pride, I had to take stock in the people that have helped me and to remember the people I have helped in my day (even if I never knew them).
I would certainly be remiss if I failed to mention that I have a great many friends in my life that support me and understand my struggle. They check on me constantly, they put gas in my Harley so I can still have a life, they have bought me meals, they hug me when I am down, they promote my business for me, they offer words of encouragement, and above all else, THEY LOVE ME for who they know I am regardless of my temporary status of need. I am not perfect, but I am perfectly blessed.