Once again I am amazed at the generosity of Side Streets readers.
And to think that a Side Streets column resulted, in one reader’s opinion, in the direct answer to a prayer . . . well, that’s humbling for sure.
It all relates to the Food Assistance Challenge issued by Care and Share, the food bank of southern Colorado, in September as part of Hunger Awareness Month. I accepted the challenge to eat for a week on a food stamp budget of $4.50 a day and I wrote about my experiences.
One of the readers who called me to offer tips was Cathy Dillon, 51, who gave me shopping advice and ways to save, which she has learned from decades of living on food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Cathy has severe disabilities including spinal damage and traumatic brain injuries she suffered in serious car wrecks, beginning at age 19. Due to her injuries, Cathy is homebound and unable to work. She depends on SNAP for groceries and volunteers to do her shopping and chores.
The fact she even saw my column was pure serendipity. She can’t afford the paper, nor does she have money for Internet service. But a neighbor knows she clips coupons and had given her the paper.
I told Cathy’s story in a subsequent column. Somehow, a copy of that paper was still sitting around a jury room in the El Paso County Courthouse recently when David Smallidge of Falcon was called for jury duty. During a break, David picked up the paper and read about Cathy and was moved by her story.
By coincidence, a Gazette marketing employee was serving on the same jury. David asked how he could reach me because he wanted to get in touch with Cathy. This series of dominoes all fell in place and Cathy agreed to talk.
“David’s wife, Cindy, called me the next day,” Cathy said. “She said they worked with food ministries in town and they wanted to help me. I told her I wasn’t seeking help. I just wanted to pass on tips for saving money for others on SNAP. I insisted I was OK.
“But she insisted and asked me if I could go shopping and didn’t have to worry about money, what would I buy. Because of my health issues, I can’t eat a lot of carbs. But I can’t afford healthy food, so I gave her a list that included meats and fresh veggies and fruits.”
Cathy said she thought Cindy and David might bring her a couple things off the list. Imagine her surprise when they showed up with bags of food.
“They blew my mind away,” Cathy said. “They bought everything on my list. I sat in shock for a couple days.”
They bought pounds of chicken. Fish. Vegetables, both fresh and frozen. Fruit.
Even some chai tea that Cathy loves but can’t afford. And some eggnog.
“It was just so much, I was floored,” Cathy said. “I’m so grateful and so embarrassed. It was very, very kind.”
David said their response was a natural one, given their volunteer work with the food pantry at Church for All Nations.
“This is in our hearts to do,” David said.
I thought it was quite a series of coincidences: A neighbor gives Cathy a paper and she calls me. David finds a month-old newspaper and is inspired to act. A Gazette employee happens to be on the same jury and facilitates a call to me.
But neither Cathy nor the Smallidges think it was coincidence. They see it as divine intervention.
“I’m pretty good staying on my budget,” Cathy said. “But that month things were pretty tight and I was running a little behind. The day before we talked, I had prayed: ‘Lord, can you help me a little this month?’ I think this is an answered prayer.”
Whoa. I’ve had readers take the Lord’s name in association with my work. But it’s not usually a flattering reference. David and Cindy seem to agree with Cathy.
“All these things had to come together,” David said. “We believe in divine connections.
“I believe it was an answered prayer, too. God works in mysterious ways.”
However it happened, I’m thrilled David and Cindy made contact with Cathy.
And they promise it won’t be a one-time visit.
“We may not always be able to run to the grocery store,” David said. “But my wife told her to call if she ever gets in another situation. We want to help.”