by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
I SAT ACROSS THE TABLE FROM A WOMAN Who struck me as a decent human being. As she shared her life with me, it became clear that it hadn't been an entirely easy one, in part because of bad luck, in part because of her own doing. But what impressed me about Nancy was that she was accountable and not one to complain. As she said, "Yep, give me lemons and I'll make lemonade."
At 45, Nancy is single-handedly raising her 13-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old granddaughter, of whom she has legal guardianship. Her only relative lives 150 miles to the north. She has no high school degree, a diverse work history and a permanently disabled back.
Though she looks perfectly healthy, Nancy has lived in chronic pain for 12 years and has limited mobility. Amazingly, this woman never stopped smiling.
I met Nancy through Chuck Kircher, the supervisor of St. Vincent de Paul's dining facility. With the help of his staff, countless volunteers, contributions and donations from all areas of our community, hungry people are fed every day. In October, that meant the facility prepared 13,000 meals. During the last year, Nancy and her girls ate a few meals at "St. Vinnie's" as well. But it was really the free bread and Chuck's compassion that made the biggest impression on Nancy.
In the beginning, it was nearly impossible for her to walk into the dining facility, "the shame I felt was awful." Nancy wasn't comfortable taking her girls there. "Everybody has a story, so I try not to judge, but I really didn't want my girls there too much. So, mostly, I just got the free bread." She paused, as if deciding to risk what she was about to disclose. "I couldn't believe I had sunk this low, that I couldn't even buy my girls bread. I couldn't believe how insignificant I felt. I knew what I used to be able to do and I needed to be doing something."
So she went to Chuck and volunteered the only thing she had, her time. At first all she did at the dining facility was wrap the utensils in paper napkins. Much of the time, she was wiping tables, because "it has to be done."
Slowly but surely, Nancy's life started to get better. She continued her commitment to St. Vincent's. "It was so wonderful to have something to do. It was more rewarding for me because I was making a difference, no matter how slight. I know there are some people who abuse the services, but I would see the young mothers coming in with their kids, the families. They all need a meal and a smile." Nancy stirred her tea and then made a vital point. "There are a lot of people with disabilities you can't see, like me. I appreciate that there's a service that supports people through the generosity of others."
Nancy has a part-time job now and is working with the Department of Rehabilitation to further her education and get work training. This former Pinkerton guard has dreams of one day owning her own retail store. And she credits St. Vincent de Paul and Chuck Kircher, a man she describes as being "so patient and kind, an exemplary manager," for being instrumental in helping her get her life back on track.
We all know the system isn't perfect. Clearly, people walk into St. Vincent's for many different reasons, some less honorable than others. But the bottom line is that there are people in our community who are hungry. The good news is that St. Vincent de Paul, Chuck Kircher, and a host of generous community members are there every single day of the year with that crucial warm meal and a smile. On this day of thanks, it all seems so simple when you consider how much it means to so many.
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