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Member since: Tue Aug 9, 2011, 03:40 PM
Number of posts: 4,359

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I made some signs and I carried some stuff...and that was enough to change the world.

Not the whole world, of course, but some of the world, my world, and sometimes that is enough.

It was just before the holidays, I was a 2nd year teacher in a financial battle with my student loans (they garnished me and the only way to get rid of the garnishment was pay in full, on time, my student loan of $900 a month, for six months. But the garnishment took 25% of my $1800 check (and I only got 9 of those a year) so after the 25% was taken out I was getting paid around 1400 bucks a month, (minus my union dues). To get the garnishment off they wanted $900 more of that $1400 for six months.

And for three months in the summer I didn't get a check at all.

It was awful. I stopped eating breakfast and had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and usually the same for dinner. Right after payday I'd splurge and buy a 2 lb block of cheese. To this day a grilled cheese sandwich tastes like the king's feast to me.

And I thought it was hard. But then I'd go to school (in the poorest neighborhood in town) and everywhere I looked there was a kid that was hungrier than me. ( I'm a big guy with honking big muscles so even hungry my body had a whole lot of muscle to munch on when times were lean) The school lunch program fed the kids breakfast and lunch (if their parents had filled out the forms and sent them in on time) but I had several students I knew would not be eating until they got back to school the next day. I'm not the kind of guy who can deal with things like that very well. I was getting to the point where I couldn't eat anything without feeling guilty.

And then the worst of the worst happened. It was before the holidays and one of my kid's moms lost her job. And then the dad got run over and killed. My educational assistant stopped at their house and told me the next day, "I am sorry and I shouldn't tell you this," as she burst into tears,"I looked in the cupboards while the mom was in the other room. They have nothing. There wasn't even a bean."

We just stood and looked at each other. She made less than I did and I had noticed that her lunch wasn't much different than mine. Peanut butter, and, just like me, she often gave it away to the students.

And I started crying because I couldn't help. I had no money. My credit was ruined or charged to the hilt. Ironically, I didn't have much more than a bean myself. And I just kept on crying on and off all morning. Standing in class, looking at this kid who just lost his dad and was not going to eat dinner.

And I excused myself, got a marker and some paper, and I put up signs in the teacher's lounge that I needed help. And I put up signs in the hall for an emergency food drive. I sent the kid home that night with my parking meter money from the ashtray of my car, my loaf of bread and my jar of peanut butter.

The next day at school one of the teachers walked up and handed me an envelope of $350--every teacher had ponied up some money-there were only 14 of us in the building. The food drive boxes were stuffed and overflowing with food. And I mean overflowing. I think every teacher emptied their kitchens. A lot of the students did too, from the looks of it.

When I pulled up to my student's house that afternoon, the bed of my Chevy pickup was piled high with a mound of canned and boxed foods. When his mom opened the door to me holding a box of food she looked so grateful and happy. Her four kids all standing around her, jumping up and down and screaming as they started looking in the box of food. They were going to have a feast! I don't remember what all was in the box, but I remember his littlest sister jumping up and down, squealing with glee and holding a can of corn like it was gold. Such joy over a can of corn can break your heart.

Mom didn't speak English so I just held up my finger "WAIT!" and ran back around the corner to the car. I ran back to the house with another box. It was like someone handed them another box of gold! More screams! More joy!

Mom was shaking and looked at me with so many thanks I can't explain the depth of it in words. A few times in my life a person has let down their guard and allowed me to look right into their soul. This was one of them.

And so I grabbed her hand and pulled her around the corner and she saw the mountain of food. And she screamed and began sobbing. This was a mom who, five minutes earlier, thought she would be sending her kids to bed without dinner. She was far away in a new country with no friends and no family to help her. She was on her own and was lost.

And then she was found. And she was sobbing for her kids, for her lost husband, for this new hard life she had found herself in. But her kids were screaming and running around my truck in glee, the neighbors started to trickle out to see what the hubbub was about. And they joined in, helping me carry in the mountain of food. We covered the counters and the floors of the kitchen and it spilled out into the living room and slowly filled that up too. Every surface was food.

The kids were laughing and happy. Walking around while sticking out their tummies as though they had already eaten their feast. Mom stood by a picture of her husband and murmured under her breath. Her tears came and went but she never lost this amazed look that wouldn't leave her face.

And then all the boxes and bags were inside. I hugged mom, my student, even his little brothers and sisters. The littlest sister had dropped her corn somewhere and was now holding one of those double sized cans of peaches. (If Golden Lady is a brand, that is what my hazy memory is filling in). And then I handed mom the envelope of money and left. I didn't wait for her to open it. The poor woman was having to hold up this facade because I was there, and I felt she deserved to scream or run or cry or collapse with only her family in attendance.

And I got to my car, cried some more with my head down on the steering wheel, and then I did that Grinch thing where my heart grew ten sizes to big. I changed that day as I came to the realization that I COULD do something. I could ALWAYS do something--even if it took some work to figure out what that something was. And I vowed then to host a food drive at school every year. And I have.

There are way to many "I's" in this story. It is not about me. I did little if nothing. I made some signs and I carried some stuff. I couldn't afford to do more. I had nothing else to give. And so I used what I had to change the world for this family. What we gave them carried them through while the social safety net that we here at DU defend so vehemently, was put into place.

I remind all of you that even if you don't have an extra dime in your pocket can make a difference. If you have a job, ask your boss tomorrow if you can do a food drive. If your kid is in a school, ask the principal tomorrow if you can run a food drive. If you go to church, have a friend who owns a business or works somewhere that might be cool with it, then ask if they'll host a food drive.

Then make a few signs. Carry some stuff. Change the world you live in for the better.

Peace out DU brothers and sisters. Step up if you can. There are people waiting for your help. (and here is a DUer in need here at Wishadoo: http://www.wishadoo.org/wishlist/139/help-for-new-engine-for-disabled-van/ If you have a few bucks to share we can all help this DUer fix the engine of their wheelchair van)
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