Rachel and her husband, Paul, were known to their friends as the couple who helped others. Happily married for 24 years, they were active in their church and had a stable source of income. Everything changed one afternoon when the unexpected happened. Rachel and Paul were involved in a terrible car accident which took Paul’s life. Although Rachel survived, she was critically injured and experienced years in a wheelchair, followed by physical therapy, before beginning to walk again. Thankfully, the Real Life Center was able to help.
“Because of the accident, my two children lost their daddy and their best friend in the whole world,” Rachel shares.
While the loss was difficult for both children, her daughter, Sharon, turned to drugs for consolation.
“I didn’t even see it,” said Rachel. “I was going through my own pain of trying to figure out how to handle everything without him. When Sharon lost her dad, she was looking, always looking.”
Sharon got involved with other drug users and became pregnant. Her continuous drug use eventually led to Rachel gaining custody of her granddaughter, Olivia. Sharon began selling methamphetamines and in 2015 was sentenced to five years in prison.
Raising Olivia for almost six years on fixed Social Security disability, Rachel found it difficult to meet basic needs. The dilemma she faced of either paying for groceries or paying for her light bill led Rachel to the Real Life Center (RLC). Rachel benefited from monthly visits to the food pantry and weekly visits to the bread pantry, where she received groceries for Olivia and herself.
“This gift of food took away that internal struggle of how my granddaughter and I were going to make it over the next five days, how I was going to stretch my last $50.”
Having access to fresh fruits and vegetables helps the children of Real Life Center families develop good eating habits. Rachel happily states, “I have Olivia eating vegetables. She is nine, and she is eating her vegetables!”
In the fall, the generosity of Panasonic and others in our community allowed the Real Life Center to support our families with needed school supplies. When Rachel took Olivia’s school supply list to the store, she realized she couldn’t purchase all the items as they totaled over $150.
She had to make a choice once again.
“Do I pay the car payment or do I pay for school supplies?”
While visiting Real Life Center, Rachel was offered a backpack filled with supplies for Olivia. When checking off supplies included in the backpack, she found most of the items Olivia needed were included! Rachel’s granddaughter wouldn’t feel left out or different on her first day of fourth grade!
“I didn’t want her to be the child who thinks, ‘my mom is in jail and my MeeMee can’t afford to buy me school supplies,’ while she saw the other kids with their supplies stacked on their desk or in their cubbies,” Rachel shares.
Olivia was even able to get the additional paper towels, wipes and hand sanitizer items from the food pantry that are requested by teachers.
“Real Life Center helped me in giving Olivia the tools for academic success.”
The Real Life Center also helps to meet the needs of children by supplying gently used clothing. Once every three months, Rachel gratefully shops the Clothing Closet for both Olivia and herself.
“I found Olivia some little boots and tennis shoes for school,” she shares with a smile. “The clothes alone would have cost me over $100.”
Generous contributions from the community help Real Life Center provide for children in additional ways. A donation of new foam mattresses last year provided Olivia and many others a much-needed mattress. During the holidays, struggling families have received gift baskets, including everything needed to make a complete dinner. Easter baskets, filled with goodies, are handed out to bring smiles to children’s faces whose parents couldn’t otherwise afford them. In 2017, 94 coats were given to children to ensure they were kept warm during colder months.
Cathy Berggren, Executive Director of RLC, understands the importance of helping children through investing in the entire family.
“Much like skipping a rock in the water and seeing the ripple effect, when we have the opportunity to invest in the life of a family, it not only affects that family, but the generations that will follow,” Cathy says. “A large part of making an impact in the lives of the families is reminding them of their value and worth.”
Rachel has experienced this impact firsthand. “It is very embarrassing to go to somebody and ask for help,” Rachel discloses. “The people at the Real Life Center make you feel comfortable. I don’t feel like I am going to a place of business where I have to humble myself and ask, ‘Can you help me get through Christmas; can you help me with a meal?’”
Rachel feels as if the team at RLC are more like friends.
“It is like I am going to my next-door neighbor and borrowing a cup of sugar,” she says, but with one difference. “Unlike going to my neighbors, at the Real Life Center I am not borrowing. I don’t have to pay it back. That’s a big thing just knowing that when I leave there, I am clear as far as a bill. I don’t owe a payment there because we received food or clothes or because we got a backpack or an Easter basket. My mind is clear, my whole being is relaxed. I don’t have to worry about how I will have to take care of the bill or if I have imposed on someone else.”
While clothing and school supplies help meet a child’s needs, this hope and peace of mind for the parents or caregivers is the most priceless and impactful gift a child receives from the Real Life Center. This hope keeps a child’s world filled with joyous laughter and free of hunger pains. Their innocence is secured by having basic needs met. This truly is the gift of neighbor helping neighbor.