In our small community there seems to be quite a few. I am not necessarily talking about the homeless. I am talking about that family that seems normal. But secretly, cannot afford school supplies or new shoes. I remember at times growing up when we were dirt poor. And at times when dirt poor meant you could literally see the dirt through the holes in our floor. Remembering back as a child it seemed like those times were few and far between, but parents were not as open back then. Those times could have been considerably closer together and lasted longer than I realized, but my parents did not let it show through unless it was just ridiculously obvious. I am thankful for that. We were a great family. Active in our church, school, and the local community. It would have been embarrassing for people to know we were one of those families. Now as a mother, I have come to realize that one of the reasons my brother and I never realized we were one of those families is because so many people did know. My parents’ friends must have certainly known and pitched in; albeit in a very quiet, compassionate, and gentle way. I remember family dinners we would enjoy with other families during a week night get together. Wednesday evenings our spaghetti dinner at the church hall were the normal, but now I know was just one less night my parents had to scrape together to provide dinner. Weekends spent with extended family and other friends were always full of tables overflowing with food. Times that made me think food was what held my family together. I guess in a way it did.
Before school started every year we would head out to Beaumont and go school clothes shopping. Three new outfits per kiddo. We thought we were in hog heaven. New clothes, and from the huge department stores at that! And it always seemed a few days later my mom would be out later than normal and come home with bags from JCPenney’s, Montgomery Ward, and Sears. Filled with more new clothes for school time. My brother and I were ecstatic to have the new clothes. What I did not know at the time was that my mother would save the bags from the three outfit trip and hit up the local Goodwill, garage sale, country feed store or discount store. Sometimes they were hand-me-downs that she would carefully patch and sew to revive and make look new. But she was always very careful to make us feel as if they were new. Having new clothes can do a lot for a child. Every year it always seemed as if one of the families in our group was having financial trouble and the others would pick up extra binders, notebooks, pens, pencils, and other school supplies. So that all of the children would have school supplies for the first day.
Towards the end of the year when the holidays hit, these families are thought about for Christmas and Thanksgiving. We do food drives, toy drives, and giving trees. The outpouring of help at this time can ease a parents’ burden and make children happy in ways you cannot imagine. Unfortunately, it is not the only time that help is needed. The beginning of a school year can be a financial burden on a family barely scraping up enough to cover utilities or rent and having to choose which one is more important. We are a week into school and as the new wears off the normal will shine through. Those three new outfits have been worn.
If you have free time or are part of a group that can help out, make time to sit down with your local school counselor or principal. Most of the time they are aware of the kids and families that are struggling. There are many things you can do to help and they will be more than happy to point you in the right direction. They can usually get the sizes of clothes or more specific information from families that they know are struggling and pass it on in a quiet, confidential manner. Try holding a ‘clothes swap’ with local families in your community or neighborhood and trade out what your children have outgrown. You can also arrange a blue jean donation bin or hold a new shoe drive. Our school district has done them around Christmas time and will get the shoe size of kiddos whose parents are having a tough time. I was one of those families when my oldest was in the first grade. She received two new pairs of shoes neatly wrapped in holiday paper. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received. In the years since I have always found a way to get involved in helping out those families. Just by buying extra binders, paper, crayons, and other school supplies and letting the teachers know that they are for other kids in the school that need them but may not be able to afford them.
There are many other ways you can help out in your community. Check with your local city hall or school district and see what you can do to lend a hand. Community involvement is a wonderful way to help give back and make a difference in someones life.
I am no longer the child, now I am the mother, and I have a huge group of friends and a wonderful community. A very quiet, compassionate, and gentle group of friends. This year, I am that family. The family that looks normal on the outside, but cannot afford school supplies or new shoes. I have wonderful friends that have stepped up and helped in various ways, as I have helped them in the past. It is done quietly, without much fuss, and not made to feel like a handout. No one has asked for anything in return or boasted that they have helped. We all know that any year it could be our family. So they are thankful it is not, and help.
Who can you help? Do you know a local family that needs help? How have you helped in the past?