Holiday Fund: When you are at the end of your ropeBy Maleah Choi, development consultant, Ecumenical Hunger Program.
In 2008 Maria received the devastating news that her husband had been deported to Mexico. At that time, Maria was 30 years old, a mother of three children, and pregnant with her fourth child.
During her husband's eight-month deportation, Maria was left alone without any means of financial support. She applied for government assistance but received only minimal assistance.
Maria needed urgent and immediate help and a social worker referred her to the Ecumenical Hunger Program for emergency assistance.
When she first came to EHP, she was unaware of all of the services that EHP had to offer. She thought that EHP only provided food resources. She was thrilled and grateful to find out about all of the safety net services that EHP could provide, particularly for her children and unborn son.
After her son was born, Maria relocated to East Palo Alto and she began coming to EHP on a more consistent basis. She would walk over, carting her children in the red wagon that she received from EHP at Christmas.
She was regularly able to receive food, as well as clothing for herself and her children, furniture and other household necessities. She also participated in the children's summer lunch program, Family Harvest, Thanksgiving and Christmas distributions.
She is extremely grateful for the support that EHP has provided and because of EHP, she feels a renewed sense of hope for the future.
EHP is not just a place to come and receive food. It has become a community center of sorts, where many come just to talk and see a friendly face. Maria has become one of our regulars, always smiling, sometimes just coming by to say "thank you" and to enjoy the garden on a beautiful day.
Recently, staff noticed that she had not visited for a significant period of time and became concerned. When she came to EHP some time later, she was wearing a black eye and a bruised lip with cuts and stitches on her face. She revealed to us that she had become a victim of domestic violence and she did not know what to do or where to go.
EHP staff contacted a few community partners and she was referred to a domestic violence service agency. She received counseling and a new place to live. Like many domestic violence clients, Maria had her life uprooted, leaving all of her belongings behind, having to start from square one again.
EHP was there to support Maria by providing food, clothing and furniture for her new home, which is currently a single 12x12-foot room that she shares with her four children.
Maria is a fighter and refuses to give up on life and holds onto the hope for a better future. She is pursuing a divorce from her husband, who is making things very difficult for her. She has no contact or support from his family and without her husband's financial support, life is very difficult.
She continues to come to EHP for food but also visits regularly for emotional support and because it is a safe haven.
Maria looks ahead with cautious optimism. She knows that it will be a long and arduous journey but she continues to fight for a better quality of life for her children. She still comes in to EHP every day with an open smile on her face and hope in her heart, and she never forgets to say "thank you."
Visit EHPcares.org for more information on the Ecumenical Hunger Program.