Bela came to America from Fiji in 1995. She has never had enough money for gifts for any special occasions, and in 1998 some of Bela’s church friends suggested that she apply at EHP for Christmas gifts for her children. In addition she says that “EHP has helped me tremendously with warm clothes for the winter, cooking classes, and the Women’s Support Group.”
Bela is grateful that EHP offers healthy food choices because she is a vegetarian. She especially likes the fresh fruit and vegetables from the EHP garden as well as tickets for the farmers market. Bela has high blood pressure and this last year a wisdom tooth infection spread down her neck and into her shoulder. Because of the infection she lost thirty pounds and still suffers from immobility in one arm. She takes care of her husband who has several health challenges including diabetes, high blood pressure, and complications from a ruptured appendix that almost took his life. They have four daughters and five grandchildren, so at any given time Bela may have up to eight people staying in her home and under her care.
For her birthday on October 23 this year, Bela dreamed of a make-over. EHP staff person Jackie Owens found a resource in Campbell -- www.mylabeestylin.com -- that was willing to give Bela a make-over including dying her hair, a facial, makeup, and beautiful vintage earrings. She came back glowing, and after selecting a special outfit from EHP’s appointment closet, she looked and felt like a new woman! Bela says this was the very best day of her life.
Lisa was a homeowner, married, a supervisor at her company for 11 years, and the mother of four children. But her story quickly unraveled. She developed preeclampsia during her last pregnancy and had to spend the final few months in the hospital. Eventually she gave birth to a premature baby boy Koby, who seemed healthy. When Lisa’s employer moved to Seattle, she was given the option to move but declined because she did not want to leave California and her extended? family. Fortunately she was hired by IKEA and started a new career.
One night soon after starting her new job she awoke and felt like her entire body was on fire -- burning from the inside -- and spent most of the night in a tub of cool water. After many visits her doctor was able to diagnose her illness as vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own blood vessels, causing them to become inflamed. Her disease settled in her left leg and foot, requiring Lisa to walk with a cane. She was in constant pain and missed so much work that her performance was affected. The medicine left her felling lethargic, and unresponsive. She began having seizures and was no longer able to drive. She could not manage her home life, and with four children, it was almost too much. She had the help of her parents, Charles and Lillie, but there was nothing they could do when her marriage began to deteriorate.
Lisa had to move out of her home and in with her parents. She was now trying to support four children and not to be a burden for her parents. She believed that it must be one of the eight medicines she was taking that were causing her seizures, so she stopped taking everything. For two years she did not have a seizure and she was trying to get her driver’s license back. The day before she was scheduled to take the test she had four seizures and was put back on the medications. While she lived with her parents, her father became legally blind and her mother’s health began to fail. Lisa knew she could not give her parents all the support they needed, so her sister Denise moved from Atlanta with her husband and child to help.
While Lisa was moving out of her parents’ home, a young man told her about the emergency support services that EHP provides. Lisa never thought she would be in a position where she would need this kind of help from anyone. She first came to get some bread. On her next visit she ended up talking about her current situation with Lea, EHP’s intake coordinator. Lea introduced Lisa to the Women’s Support Group and she has become an active participant. Lisa stresses that she has strong family support, but the “EHP family” meets her needs in a way that her family cannot. She can come to the Women’s Support Group and be open and honest with the other women about her life. EHP has provided school supplies and backpacks for her children, as well as gift cards for new clothes; she knows that without EHP her children would go without.
Lisa’s mother Lillie died recently and Lisa was again comforted by her EHP family. The women organized a special meeting and meal to support Lisa. When she became very worried about her father after her mothers death, she again used EHP’s services to get through the crisis.
Two weeks ago Lisa received a call from the school nurse stating that her son Koby needed to see the doctor. Lisa had previously taken Koby to the doctor because she was concerned about his frequent trips to the restroom, and the small amounts of blood that she noticed, but the doctor did not think it was a serious issue. Koby was always tired, and would need a nap when he came home from school, but she just thought this was his personality. This time she had a difficult time getting an appointment for Koby, because her health insurance had lapsed, and when she tried taking him to Stanford Emergency they could not help her. Finally the school nurse helped get Koby an appointment and after a biopsy he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. He will need to take medicine for the rest of his life. His blood count was so low the doctor was amazed that he could still function.
Lisa says without the occasional help that she gets from EHP, for food, clothing, furniture, school supplies, Christmas toys, and without the Women’s Support Group, life would be very much harder than it already is. Some days she feels so down that she just doesn’t want to do anything, but she knows she must. And she does. Lisa knows that the staff at EHP care about her and her children, and will “stand with” them.
When Patrisha Cherry brought a donation of a Christmas turkey to the Ecumenical Hunger Program in December, it was a continuation of a story that goes back to the early days of the organization.
There were five Cherry daughters: Yolanda, Sarah, Patrisha, Leona, and Willie Mae, and life was hard for the family. Their first contact with EHP came when their mother, unable to feed the girls, called Nevida Butler, who immediately supplied food for them. A few years later, with the parents divorcing, their mother had a stroke, and the girls still at home were left to fend for themselves. EHP supported them with food, got the electricity reconnected, and made referrals which resulted in their being rehoused. Patrisha says EHP was vital to her at that time. “I never knew EHP to say no to any real need”, she says. “If there is ever anything I can do for EHP, I will definitely do it. I would take any opportunity to give back what they have given not just to my family, but to the entire community.”
Patrisha is now the mother of two boys: Patrick is nineteen and a freshman at Butte Community College in Oregon. He intends to become a nurse. Antonio is 13 and attends Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto. He volunteers with his mother, including on the Stanford Community Day, when they have pulled weeds in the garden at EHP.
Over the years, after graduating from Woodside High School, Patrisha worked hard, sometimes had two jobs, and is now employed at Stanford in Environmental Health and Safety. But she never lost her teenage dream of working in medicine. Soon, she will enroll in community college with a view to entering a physician's assistant program.
The five sisters remain close. Their mother lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Willie Mae, and the photograph is of all of them celebrating her seventieth birthday.
Patrisha says “ EHP gave me not just material support, but strength and courage. I realized you just have to reach out and ask for help, and it will be there. That's why it's such a pleasure for me to be able to give something back.”
Mar Y Sol's Story
Ecumenical Hunger Program (EHP) has always provided a Merry Christmas for me and my family. As a single mom, my mother successfully raised three children, but definitely not on her own. She’s been lucky to have the help and support of EHP. Just like a father, EHP has provided food, school supplies, warm clothing, housing items, toys, and a computer when most needed!
As a kid, I don’t remember ever being hungry or wanting something I did not have. My brother, sister and I were always aware of how difficult it was for my mother to provide for us with a minimum wage job. She was never shy about letting us know where the extra food came from every month. When Christmas time came, my mom always made it merry with the help and support of EHP. As the years went on and we grew into teenagers, she worried about being able to provide us with Christmas presents.
My mother talked to Lisa, EHP’s Executive Director, about her economic situation and our academic achievements. We were growing up and we needed things other than toys that particular Christmas. My sister and brother were starting the college application process and I was starting my first year in college. We really needed a laptop, and like other teenagers we wanted electronic devices. Lisa told my mother that although EHP was unable to provide Christmas presents for teenagers that year they would make a special effort to provide our family with gifts. We made a wish list and turned it into Lisa with high hopes. Christmas day came and a black bag was delivered to our home. It contained a laptop, a DVD player, a soccer ball, and a CD player as well as our Christmas dinner. Lisa had found an EHP donor family who shared their generosity with us!
We are all young adults now. My sister and brother are finishing biology degrees, and I’m working on a master’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology at San Jose State University. My mom continues to work at the same place she has worked for more than thirteen years and although we don’t need as many things as we needed when we were younger, we continue to get assistance from EHP when we require it.
We are very lucky that programs like EHP exist and bring a light of hope to families like ours. As a member of the East Palo Alto community, I feel very blessed and I look forward to a future when I too can contribute to EHP at Christmas time and make a family with teenagers happy and merry!
The necessity for forgiveness… it’s her favorite verse in the Bible which she carries with her and reads daily. And she has a lot to forgive and be thankful for. Her life story is like a roller coaster successful business women working in a law firm, Revlon makeup artist and owning her own hair salon. To one day not having any food, money, losing her job and her 20 year old daughter Brandice Miller, recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune means that the body’s immune, or defense, system mistakenly attacks its own tissue. With MS, your immune system attacks the nerve tissues in your central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. This was her introduction to EHP 8 years ago.
Brandice was 20 when she was diagnosed; she lost her sight and was paralyzed from the neck down. With the help of experimental drugs she can now see, uses a walker in the home and a wheelchair for outside excursions. Bridget is the primary caretaker till Brandice takes her last breath…they are secure in their knowledge of what unfolds next.
When you meet Bridget you see a confident strong woman, but she has a past that she only lets very few know about to protect herself. She has survived an abusive relationship, tried to walk away from her caretaking duties, and is ever vigilant against the threat of suicide, she learned to stand up to the state to get the kind of service that Brandice needs. The day that I interviewed her she told me that morning she has been diagnosed with Ovarian cancer.
Bridget attends the Women Support Group at EHP and she is confident that these women love her for her. She can come here for comfort, peace and the truth. She is not a quitter, and believes that God will make a way…. there is so much goodness in the world and we have so much to be thankful for.