When I was about six years old, I stayed in a women’s shelter with my brother and my mom. We’d left home on very short notice and didn’t really understand what was happening or why- but I remember it was a scary situation. I have three things that I took away from the experience.
- They cut the crusts off my bread if I asked nicely (THE BEST)
- We watched The Land Before Time on VHS repeatedly and I loved every second.
- Everyone there treated us like gold, and I was overwhelmed by love and attention.
There isn’t much more that a six year old can take away, or remember from a situation like that, but over all it was a really positive memory from my childhood- as strange as that may seem.
Although my shelter experiences may be limited (lucky me), my childhood experience with first world poverty, constant upheaval, and day-to-day struggle was not limited. I used to walk by houses much smaller than my current home and wonder how rich people really lived. I didn’t know any of the people who lived in them, and they seemed a world away from me, something I would never experience.
I knew (or thought) the rich kids got to bring fruit rollups for snacks to school. The rich kids got to wear those tear away Adidas pants (it was the 90’s okay?). The rich kids probably had never been to a pawnshop- never mind to pawn away their Christmas gifts. The rich kid’s parents drove cars. The rich kids got to stay at the same school with their friends year after year. That was the thing that was harder than any of the other things…knowing that other people didn’t have to made new friends almost every year.
By no means did I grow up surrounded by tragedy. There are stories much more tragic than my own. I saw a lot more in my first 17 years than most of the people I spend time with these days, but it’s nothing compared to the poverty, abuse, violence and uncertainty that many women and children experience everyday. In this very moment, there are families in my community who are struggling to keep it together, struggling to get through the day.
I share part of my story with you to show you that poverty, abuse, and struggle is not as far away as you think. There is no “us” and “them”. We are all the same. We (the lucky, the blessed, the fortunate) are no better a people than them (the struggling, the hurt, the poor). I have learned that life can change in the blink of an eye; with one decision, with one event, with one relationship- for the good, and for the bad. We have all likely arrived at our plenty by a mixture of good fortune and hard work. But there are many people that work hard and do not arrive at plenty. They could be us, and we could be them, so easily.
I am beyond blessed to have a home to come back to at the end of the day that makes me feel warm and loved- not frightened and afraid. As a wife, and a mother my heart is full to brim with the love I receive from my family on a day-to-day basis. I know what to expect from those around me everyday and they know what to expect from me. I am respected by my family and I respect them. Not every woman has that luxury.
There are women around us who are struggling in this very moment. Women who are afraid to tell their husbands they made a mistake. Women who are ashamed of the lunches they send their children to school with. Women who have to lie to their children to keep them safe. Women who have been victims of emotional, physical and psychological abuse. Women who are told they are fat, unworthy, and not good enough. There are women in your city who feel they are failing everyone around them. There are women who have been handed a really crappy deck of cards in life.
Lucky for me, the abuse and poverty I endured as a child and teen is a far off memory that I joke about with my friends sometimes. Stories they can’t believe are true. But for these women, their lives are no joke. It is tremendously difficult to see an end to the misery they face everyday.
Some of these women have to stay in shelters at some point or another-either by themselves, or with their children. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult thing for them to do. They are displaced from their families. Often, they have nowhere else to go. They have no support group. They have no means to help themselves. They have lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their confidence. Sometimes, they are in hiding from those who pose a danger to them.
I never imagined that I would shop at The Real Canadian Superstore, never mind go to the checkout without first calculating my total to see if my card would decline or not. I never thought that I would get gas without looking at the price. I never thought that I would own my own home. I never thought that I would go on a vacation. I never thought that I would look forward to going home because that is where I feel most comfortable and most loved. My home is my biggest blessing, and not the wood and shingles, but the people in it.
I’m not rich. I’m “middle class”, and if you’re reading this than maybe you are too. That means you probably work, you probably have a car, you probably go on vacation sometimes, and you probably don’t visit foodbanks unless you are donating. You probably wonder what to get your parents for Christmas because they usually buy what they want or need, and you probably set limits on your kids gifts because you don’t want them to grow up to be spoiled.
You might be wondering why I’ve shared all of this. It’s because I wanted to share with you why I am personally interested in what I am doing. My personal experiences have shaped my passion. I’ve reached a time in my life I thought might never come. A time of stability, a time of ability. I am able to help those around me, and so I will do that because I too have been helped along in my journey.
I want to see women around me who are struggling in different areas of their lives reach their fullest potential. I want them to know how incredibly valuable they are- to their families, to their communities, and to themselves. I want them to know they are loved.
I started volunteering for a charitable organization called “The Shoebox Project” http://www.shoeboxproject.com this month. I am now the Local Area Coordinator for the Norfolk County area. The Shoebox Project is a charitable organization that provides gift-filled shoeboxes during the holidays to women who find themselves in shelters and resource centers.
The shoeboxes are to be filled with various items you think a woman might like -lotion, hair care, makeup, personal care products and gift certificates– items she doesn’t have access to or the means to purchase during a difficult time. Things that make her feel special. We believe that a small gesture can make a big difference. Creating a shoebox worth roughly $50 can be done alone or with friends. It isn’t a lot when you think about it, and can make a world of a difference to those who are receiving them. Customizing the shoebox with decorations and images makes creating the shoebox as important as the contents. For more details on what to put in a shoebox and how to get started you can click here. http://www.shoeboxproject.com/make-a-shoebox.html
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to coordinate the Shoebox Project for Norfolk County this year and I love that I have the chance to volunteer for such a unique and essential charity. The women in my community who have found themselves in difficult circumstances over the holiday season deserve to receive a gift that can give them a glimmer of hope and a message of love. That is my goal, to spread hope and love.
If it’s something that interests you please contact me!
Not only do we need people to lovingly make shoeboxes but we need volunteers and people to spread the word.
Do you have a storefront business in Norfolk County? Would you be interested in being one of our drop-off locations for the shoeboxes?
Would you like to get together with co-workers or friends to have a shoebox making party?
There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference this holiday season. What a blessing we can be to those living so close to us. Please join me!
If you aren’t from my community check out www.theshoeboxproject.com to see what you can do to get involved in your area.