When the water stops running
The sun was starting to creep its way up, but it was out of sight behind thick clouds. It had been a long night at work. Dwayne had only been home for a couple of minutes before hearing the “Are you kidding me?!” outburst that came from the other end of the townhome. He heard shuffling in the bathroom as he came closer.
“Dad. Did you know the water’s off again?” Katrina said. Dwayne knew his oldest daughter was doing her best to keep her voice even as she looked at him. “Sorry. Sorry. I know you’ve been at work all night. This is just kind of out of hand, isn’t it? I’m trying to get ready for school--”
“Yeah, I was hoping we’d make it before it caught up with us.” Dwayne sighed. He rubbed the back of his neck and look helplessly at his teenager. “I’ll pay that bill first when I get paid tomorrow. Maybe I’ll call them too so they get to it faster.”
Katrina took a breath and paused.
“What is it?” he said.
“Well, the phones haven’t been working either,” she reminded him.
“Oh. Right,” Dwayne replied. “Well, I’ll find a way to take care of it.”
It was tense in the car. There was no blame, just worry. Dwayne kept catching himself gripping the steering wheel a little too tight and tried to relax. The radio played quietly in the background, drowned out by the rain pelting the windshield.
It was hard to not beat himself up as he drove Derrick and Katrina to the high school and Francine to the junior high. He was so tired. He picked the night shift when the Minneapolis Transit System hired him on as a security officer since it paid so much more. He couldn’t believe he earned $16.75 an hour, 40 hours a week and still couldn’t get everything covered. The costs of gas, rent and utilities were always just a little too high to make sure even the basics were paid for.
“Look,” Dwayne said after a while, surprising everyone out of their thoughts. “I really appreciate you guys being so patient about this. I know even though your mom left six years ago now, it’s still really hard on all of us.”
In the rear-view mirror, Dwayne saw Derrick look hard out the window, tightening his jaw in the back seat.
“I just need you to know I love you guys, and I’m going to figure this out. I promise.”
“Maybe we should get some help,” Derrick said, his first time speaking up all morning.
Dwayne hesitated. The windshield wipers started croaking as they pulled up to the school.
He put the car in park. “Maybe I’ll look into it before I get some sleep this morning.”
Dwayne picked up his old laptop from the house and drove to the library down the road to use the free internet. He did a web search for food resources and saw Second Harvest Heartland’s website come up. After reading about ways to get help, he found a link to an interactive map of food shelves in his neighborhood.
Dwayne drove right from the library to the food shelf and exhaled slowly in the car before getting out. It was something he had never done before, or thought he would have to do.
When Dwayne stepped inside the building, a colorful, welcoming sign pointed him in the right direction. The food shelf was so much brighter than Dwayne expected. He didn’t know why, but he expected a dirty, disorganized room with expired cans of beans everywhere—in other words, nothing like this. There were several rows of foods, many varieties sorted by type just like in a grocery store. There was also a line of refrigerators.
“Hello?” Dwayne said aloud in the food shelf entryway, looking for a staff person.
He heard something like a box being set down from out of sight. “Oh! Good morning!” said a woman coming from a back room. “Sorry about that. I’m just preparing for a group of volunteers later. What can I help you with?”
“I don’t know how this works, but I wanted to uh, maybe pick up some food,” Dwayne said. He could tell the woman in front of him was nice, but he couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed by even being there.
“Great!” the woman said. “What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you Dwayne! I’m Bev. If you could just write your full name here, we can get you started,” Bev said, pushing a sign-in sheet his way.
Dwayne wrote his name. “Do you need a pay stub or anything? I didn’t even think of that.”
Bev shook her head. “Nope! We are a no-questions-asked food shelf. If you need help, we believe you, and you don’t need to prove it. Just a couple questions though! Do you live in Hennepin County, Dwayne?”
“Yes,” Dwayne said.
“How many people are in your household?”
He thought for a moment of how it used to be five, how this used to be easier. “Four.”
“Any kids?” Bev asked.
“Alright, I’ll give you a little tour, since you haven’t been around here before.”
Dwayne entered the building with a mind full of worry. But he left with his hands full of grocery bags (including some fresh produce, much to his surprise!) to bring to the car. He was grinning—this was his hand up. Things were going to get better.
And he could not wait for his kids to come home.
Thankfully, Dwayne was able to get to a food shelf for food assistance. In this story, Dwayne did not apply for SNAP (food stamps), but if he had, he would have found he does not qualify, based on his income level. Although providing for three kids with one income and struggling to make ends meet, Dwayne and our neighbors just like him face many obstacles, and getting help is often not easy. At Second Harvest Heartland, we are continually working to make food help more accessible.
You can help Fill Another Table for families in our community just like Dwayne’s—there are four easy ways to make a difference.
Note: This post is based on a true story about a real family we’ve served. To protect the identity of our clients, names have been changed.