I realized this past week that I have never lived at subsistence level.  I know what it means now.

            As part of Family Services Coalition, a group of churches and non-profits in the Metrowest area, I  tutor a young mother in English twice a week.  She is homeless, lives in one room at an old motel with her four-month-old baby girl. Massachusettsis a “right-to-shelter” state, unlike many others, so homeless families do not have to live on the streets.  They have a room paid for by the state, some food stamps plus occasional access to a food pantry, and some aid from a state agency for women, infants, and children (WIC).  My student has a dorm refrigerator and microwave in her room, some clothes for her and her child, and a donated baby carriage that makes it possible for her to walk to stores, the bus station, and sometimes just to be out of her room and enjoy the weather. 

            On one of the Indian Summer days we had recently, she was out getting groceries and baby formula.  She stopped at a clothing store in a strip mall and used a fitting room to change her daughter’s diaper and put her in lighter clothes.  Then she headed for the nearby “big box” store where she knew formula was cheapest.  When she realized she’d left her tote bag in the fitting room, she hurried back.  The bag was at the cashier’s station, everything of any value stolen from it. Food stamps, a grocery store gift card for $25, her hard-to-get WIC ID card, and $100 in cash, all gone.  Mid-month, nothing coming in for more than two weeks.
 

            The following day when she told me about the theft, I could see the fear in her eyes.  “I so sad, I no sleep the night,”  she said.  “The baby—-she feel how I feel, she so sad, no sleep.”  Once again, she had been reduced to nothing.

            After class I okayed  the expenditure with our Coalition chairwoman, then bought three cans of Enfamil and another grocery gift card and left them for her at the motel desk.  When she called that night to thank me, her voice broke and she started to cry.  I was across town, too far away to put my arms around her.


            E. B. G.

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