I’ll never forget Miss Marshall. She begins #MyGivingStory

She had recently retired looking forward to staying off her feet and settling into a more restful routine after a lifetime of hard work. It was not to be. Her daughter and son-in-law, tragically, were killed in an automobile accident leaving four young children, 9 months to 14 years old. At 65, Miss Marshall stepped in to raise them. It was a struggle on her social security income to make ends meet.

At this time the company I worked for “adopted” families for the holidays. Miss Marshall’s family was on my list. My husband, Mick and I, delivered brightly wrapped packages and boxes of food to her family. Miss Marshall sent her three grandsons, ages 10, 12 and 14 to help us unload the car and tote the gifts up three flights of stairs to their small apartment. A tiny Christmas tree, strung with popcorn sat in a corner. The boys were so sweet and polite. They carefully placed each gift around the tree. I noticed how their eyes lit up when they saw their names on the gift tags, especially the 14-year old who wished for a skateboard. It’s not easy to disguise a skateboard with wrapping paper!

I asked Miss Marshall for permission to put away the perishable food in her refrigerator; a large ham and turkey, several pounds of ground beef, two roasts and more! My eyes filled with tears when I opened the door and saw how little they had. Thawing for dinner was a small 1-pound package of cube steaks for all of them to share. Raising a growing boy, myself, I knew that one of those boys could devour that small piece of meat by himself. Seeing how little they had to eat was a defining moment in my life. I knew then that I wanted to help the hungry.

The second significant moment was the following year when we delivered a microwave oven to Mr. McArthur. His wife of 63 years had passed away and he needed to warm up microwave meals for himself. He thanked us and shared, “What I miss most now that my wife is gone is having someone to sit at the table and talk with while I eat.” My family had always done that, so I understood the importance of that connection but had not considered how I would feel if it were not possible. It was a gut punch to me.

A few years later I read a story in the newspaper about Trinity Cafe and their model of serving food to the hungry and sitting at the table sharing conversation with guests as they enjoyed their meal. Before I even stepped foot in the cafe, I knew that I was destined to be there.

My opportunity to start my journey with Trinity Cafe came when I was laid off from The Tampa Tribune, after a 35-year career. I felt there was a new plan and purpose for me. It was now time for me to connect the yearning in my heart to provide food for those in need and to give back in a very real and tangible way.

I quickly learned that our homeless guests or people struggling to provide food for their families have great needs. It is humbling to experience the transformation that occurs when you serve a meal to a person with dignity, treat them with respect and accept them unconditionally. When a person is hungry, a hot meal is a gift of relief. It bolsters self-esteem, gives energy and hope.

I learned the gift of listening. I understand that people don’t always need advice; they just need to be heard. To simply sit and quietly allow a guest to empty themselves of their burdens is a great gift. I don’t need to do anything except hold that burden for them, so they can leave the table and feel a load has been lightened. It is a gift to validate a person’s importance and value. They are no longer unheard or overlooked.

What is #MyGivingStory? It is in giving that I receive.