A Story Not Soon Forgotten

She came into our office on Friday, a young lady in early 20s but look much younger. She walked up to our desk and stood there for a few minutes trying hard to find the words she wanted to say. 

“I’ve never had to do this before,” she finally said. “I don’t know what to say but I need help.” She quietly began to tell her story to our volunteer coordinator Mary Ann McMinn. 

She explained and she had two young children at home and had recently lost her house as her landlord sold the property and told her she had to move. A few days later she was informed at work if they were cutting back and she lost her job. 

With no place to go she frantically began looking for a new home for her and her children and fortunately within a few days found an apartment. She had to use every bit of her meager savings for the deposit. She had in doing this she was left with no money for food. 

As Mary Ann listened to her story as the young lady took off her coat and showed her her arm and said that she had donated her blood because she had heard they were they giving out Walmart gift cards for people who donated blood and the $10 gift card would help her put food on the table for her children. 

Taking her aside, Mary Ann told her how glad she was that she was there along with her father and a friend who is there for moral support and to help tell her story if needed. Through a food program with Ingles we were able to give her and Ingle’s gift card which would help her with food for sometime and then began to help her with her rent and other needs that she has. 

In a community so generous and giving this young mother still had to donate her blood to get a Walmart gift card to provide food for her children. Not in some huge urban center or in another country, right here in our own back yard, actually right here in our own living room.

Later that afternoon I was reminded of a story I had read a few days before.

It was a story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who served as the three-time Mayor of New York City during the darkest days of the Great Depression and all throughout World War II. Known as the “Little Flower” because of his stature (five foot four) and the fact that he was always seen wearing a carnation in his lapel, 

Fiorello cut a wide colorful swath throughout the city, as he would ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to see the Yankees play baseball, and when the New York newspapers decided to strike, he would read the Sunday funnies on the radio to the children at home so they wouldn’t miss the adventures of their favorite characters.. 

On one particularly bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor walked into a magistrate court in the poorest section of the city and informed the judge that he would be hearing the cases himself. 

Relieving the judge of his duties for the evening , LaGuardia took the the bench and called the court to order. Shortly, a old woman in ragged clothes was brought before him being charged with stealing a loaf of bread. 

She explained to the mayor that her daughter had recently been abandoned by her husband. Her daughter was very ill and her two grandchildren were starving. Upon hearing her story, LaGuardia asked the shopkeeper to drop the charges. The shopkeeper refused.

“It’s a real bad neighborhood, Your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” 

LaGuardia, seeing that the shopkeeper would not change his mind, looked to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions— ten dollars or ten days in jail.” 

Heartbroken and devastated by his words, this frail women found that it took all her strength just to stand and explained to the mayor that she had no money and if she had, she would have purchased the bread and would not have stolen it. But then a most unexpected thing happened. As the mayor was pronouncing the sentence, he reached into his pocket, took out a ten-dollar bill tossed it into his famous sombrero.“Here is the ten-dollar fine, which I now remit, “ he said. “And furthermore, I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty-cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” 

The New York City newspapers reported the next day that $47.50 was turned over to a quite confused elderly lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Noting that fifty-cents of that amount collected came from a very angry, red-faced grocery-store owner as well as from seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, attorneys, and New York City policemen, each of whom paid fifty cents and for the privilege of doing so gave the mayor a standing ovation. 

Now, that story happened nearly eighty-five years ago and in a world where so much has changed, so much hasn’t. Throughout the years in every city, town, and state in our county, including our own there are still families who have to donate blood to get a free gift card to buy food for their children. 

This is not the romantic version of Victor Hugo’s 1852 novel and wildly popular musical Les Miserables (the Miserable Ones) in which Jean Valjean was sentenced to twenty-years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to help feed his sister and her children. This is not a novel or a play we travel hundreds of miles and wait months to see. This is where we live – in a wonderful caring community who still has courageous women and men who are willing to give there blood for their families can eat. 

In a time of government shutdowns, furloughs, and vitriolic rhetoric we can’t afford to overlook all of those in need, not just those who make the news. We must reach out to everyone in need and not forget those who have been struggling for so long. 

I have heard it said that courage is getting up every morning and facing the battles that left you so exhausted the night before. The young lady who visited us last Friday has that kind of courage.And as long as she and others like her are there so will be Eblen Charities. Please come and join us. Let us begin.

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