I woke up this morning to the alarm of my iPhone next to my head. (never too far to get a quick Facebook scroll in) I was a little chilled. The ceiling fan was on high and I could tell the central air must have been running all night. I limped into the bathroom with a full stomach from the night before at the Olive Garden. I overdid it. Again. A few minutes later I was at the kitchen table, eating my Special K, reading an article on ESPN.com on my phone about Lebron James’ next big decision. I remember being irritated that we were out of orange juice.
I had an early morning meeting at Jitterz and had my favorite ice blended mocha. I thought about adding a muffin, but declined. I remembered the lunch meeting I had scheduled to present about what we do at Resources Unite. Lunches like that usually have a pretty good spread. I could wait. My last meeting ended before my presentation and I dashed out to the van hoping I dodged a parking ticket. Win! I probably got away with 30 minutes of free parking. The day was looking up!
The conference room table on the third floor of the Historic Federal Building was full of food. They had catered sandwiches from Arby’s and 3 different bags of Sun Chips with a fruit platter from Hy-Vee for the lunch meeting. I got in line and filled my plate. I didn’t know anyone in the room so I sat down, started to eat, and listened.
I thought I was presenting to the housing department. It turned out that it was them and their housing advisory council. (people who lived in housing)
Tonya sat to my right. She shared that she’s been taking classes at NICC in Peosta but no longer has transportation to get to classes. She’s in the child development program. She talked about her struggle with trying to get ahead but too often falling farther behind. “There’s no busses that run to Peosta. What am I supposed to do, take a cab??” She wanted an answer from me. I didn’t have it. Someone suggested that she ask a friend or family member. “I’ve been living in Dubuque for 4 or 5 years and all I know is my neighbor and a few people from church.” She didn’t have their phone numbers and it didn’t matter because sometimes her phone was shut off anyway due to not being able to pay the bill.
Tracie was directly across from me and was talking about not being able to get a good job that covered the bills and how so many jobs that she can get want her to work 3rd shift or on Sundays. Her car broke down and no busses run at that time. “I have gone to every single place in town to get help. I am so sick and tired of telling my story over and over again, being turned down, and judged. I am working full-time. I’m doing my best, Josh. I really am.”
I thought about meeting Kim yesterday. She was sitting next to her car in the shade. They just turned her electricity off because she couldn’t pay the bills and was praying that she could find the gas money to get back home to Texas. It was cooler sitting outside than it was in her stuffy apartment. She could tolerate the gnats better than me. She sobbed as we gave her the gas card donated by the community. “I didn’t think anybody cared. I just wanted to give up.”
They were beating me over the head with the reminder of my privileged lifestyle. It was hard to hear much more. I could feel my iPhone vibrating in my pocket. It was probably one of my 1,200 friends on Facebook sending me a request to play Candy Crush. I wanted to disappear.
It’s so easy to forget. We don’t even think about them. Most times they don’t even exist. But they do. And the moment that Kim’s story was shared yesterday, the community responded with urgency to help.
I think we responded to help her and ourselves.
These stories need to be told; told for you, me, Tonya, Tracie, and Kim. This is how we grow as individuals and as a community.