When Strangers Disappoint

I have hesitated to talk much about my experience this summer/fall, when we were contacted and gave assistance to a needy family.  It opened my eyes to lots of problems in society, by making them REAL and RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.  But, what I have come to realize is that many might not agree with my conclusions to my observations on the failings of the system.

This summer, my family participated in a food program in our county.  Six Fridays in a row, we drove our van to the local food bank/thrift store and loaded up with over 200 lunches.  Then we drove up and down our “route ” (same one each week) slowly.  I honked my horn (three quick beeps – over and over and over) while my Caterpillars handed out lunches to hungry kids.  It changed how we saw needy people.  Joy over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was mind-blowing to my kids and they have all asked to work again next summer.

Towards the end of summer, school supplies where handed out, and on our normal Friday run a father asked if we had any extra.  He had taken in his sister-in-law, her boyfriend and their four girls.  The two oldest girls had no school supplies for the coming year.  Otto and I had felt very strongly that God was calling us to DO something that day, so I took their school information and we provided ALL the supplies (including backpacks and new shoes) for ALL the children in the household.  I also left them my phone number, in case other school supplies came up (as it happens often during the first week).  We also brought colouring books and  crayons for the little ones.

Two weeks later I got a phone call, late at night.  The family of six were being kicked out of the home in the morning, and had to pack and had nowhere to go.  Or a car to even live in.  Would we help?  Did we have any idea of where they could go?

Crisis.  Crisis Problem.

I can solve Crisis Problems.  Otto and I prayed, and at 11pm at night we drove to a scary part of town, with boxes – so their belongings could be packed.  I promised to be there in the morning to pick them up, and encouraged them to PLEASE send the two older girls to school.  (The fear was they couldn’t get them after school, so they just weren’t going to go.)

Why did they get kicked out?  Simple – only two adults can be on food stamps in one household.  Because there were four adults in the household – and two already were (the two mothers), neither father could be on food stamps.  When the father who lived in the house applied, the mother who lived in the house was “kicked off”.  I don’t know how I feel about this.  I understand the need to curb food stamp abuse, but at the same time – none of the applications listed anyone on multiple stamps.  (So each mother had her own children – only, and the fathers weren’t on anything.)  The problem was the address.  The parents living at the address could NOT have both been together.  It’s hard to understand, and I do see the problem.

I don’t know the answer.  And if it’s feed your own kids or feed your sister’s kids, I cannot speak for those who have to make those hard choices.

We (Otto and I) put them in an extended stay hotel.  I got the older girls enrolled in school.  Bought groceries, living supplies, found them clothes and shoes, and got donations of blankets and pillows so the girls would have a comfy place as they slept on the floor.  Generous friends provided Pillow Pets and matching PJs for the girls.  Cooking implements were secured.  My mother, Cookie, did their laundry every week so they would have clean clothes and wouldn’t have to pay to go to a laundry mat.  I am grateful for each and every person that helped us in that moment.

I had two friends even help pay for the Extended Stay Hotel – at approx $200 a week, eight weeks was a staggering proposition.

But, I told them upfront – we were just regular people – NOT an organization.  We could not help/sustain them forever.

So I gave them resources – the number to the Lilburn Co-Op.  The information for Family Promise.  How to get help from the county.  And I *begged* them to use those resources.  I drove them to and from where they needed to go once a week, and took them groceries until their food stamps came in again.

After the initial 72 hour period, I asked how things were going.  Family Promise had said they couldn’t take any families until October 1st, but to keep checking back.  Every day was okay.

I asked them to commit to that.  If they were calling Family Promise every day, and filled out the paperwork, I would take them ASAP when they got an interview.  And we would help them stay in the extended hotel until that happened.

Fast forward to October 1st.  Family Promise has no space, and come to find out – the mother hasn’t been calling, in fact, hadn’t called back since September 1st.  They were paid in the lodging through October 21st, so I asked her if she could please make sure she was calling daily from then on.

She didn’t.  She didn’t make the phone calls to help her children.  At all.  In fact, I started getting threatening phone calls about how “I owed her family this place to live”, because “my family was so rich.”   And I should be paying months in advance for them to have a place to stay.

I stopped answering the phone.  It was heartbreaking.

I’m not rich.  Our kids went without some stuff, so we could pay to help this family.  Our entire Christmas giving budgeted money went to help this family.

Do I feel bad?  No.  Do I feel cheated?  No.  We helped as much as we could, while being up front with the limits of our abilities.

We can help with Crisis Problems.  Chronic Problems require self-motivation to fix.  They now had a Chronic Problem.

Some people will say that all poor people have Chronic Problems, never Crisis Problems.  I’m not sure I agree.  I like to believe that a different family would have taken two months of free rent, shelter, and resources, plus gifts to get their family on its feet, and gotten themselves REAL help in a way that could prevent this from happening to them again.  This family felt help was owed to them.

Do I resent helping this family, rather than another?  No, this is the family God put in front of us.  It is not my job to judge God’s will or my fellow man.  I’m disappointed.  I hoped for more for them.  But I just as I cannot judge, I cannot DO for someone else what they won’t do for themselves.

And that is what I came away with.  The resources in general were there for the taking, but the adults in question lacked the motivation to DO what needed to be done.

I pray their children are okay.  I pray they are all safe, warm, and dry – with food in the kitchen.

But I cannot be the one to fix their lives.  Everyone has to want to live better, in order to live better.

Thank you to every single friend who gave assistance to this family through me.  The four little girls had their lives touched, and regardless of the parents thoughts – they will remember someone cared enough to provide for them.  I appreciate you all.

~Mummy Butterfly  )i(

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