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Let's lift January: Gift brings awareness of a friend’s struggle

Let's lift January

Let's lift January: Gift brings awareness of a friend’s struggle

When my friend stopped showing up at the Schenectady Inner City Ministry's food pantry, I never did
Let's lift January: Gift brings awareness of a friend’s struggle
Reporter Kelly de la Rocha holds cupcakes meant to lift a friend's spirits.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Editor’s note: Let’s lift January! The holidays are over, but good will doesn’t have to end. Reporters Karen Bjornland and Kelly de la Rocha seek expert advice this month on ways to brighten lives through simple acts of kindness. They’ll put what they learn into action and report on their efforts each Saturday in The Gazette.

I brought cupcakes to Carmen.

I hadn’t seen her in over a year. The retired nurse used to be a fixture at Schenectady Inner City Ministry’s food pantry on Fridays, the day I volunteer there. She’d ask me about my kids, offer snippets about her life and hug me across the counter. I’d set aside extra garlic bulbs for her just to see her smile.

When she stopped showing up, I never did more than wonder why, until Monday afternoon, when I dropped by her home unannounced.

Through the gap left by a displaced window blind, I watched her shuffle to the door wearing a nightgown and a thin robe secured with a safety pin.

I didn’t remember her being frail.

“What can I help you with today?” she asked pleasantly.

My heart sank. She had forgotten who I was.

Share your stories

Have you been the recipient of a surprise act of kindess? Have you done a good deed recently? Let us know about it. Select stories may be published in an upcoming issue of the Gazette.

&bull; Twitter — use the hashtag #LetsLiftJanuary

&bull; Facebook — post on The Daily Gazette’s Facebook page

&bull; Email — [email protected] or [email protected]

&bull; U.S. mail — Send your stories to Gazette Reporter Kelly de la Rocha at The Daily Gazette, P.O. Box 1090, Schenectady, NY 12301-1090.

“It’s me, Kelly, from the food pantry,” I prompted, reminding her of a headband she once gave me, and of a mutual friend. Recognition dawned in her eyes and a bright smile followed.

She ushered me into her cluttered kitchen, lamenting about the cleaning she had yet to do, medical bills that are piling up, and her battle with cockroaches. She showed me the scar from her heart surgery and poured me some ginger ale.

She drifted from subject to subject, struggling to finish an entire thought, and it scared me to think she lives alone.

I was relieved to hear she is a recipient of Meals on Wheels but upset to discover she dries her clothes over a heat vent because her dryer is broken. I asked if she needed help with anything. She was too gracious to accept.

She asked about my family, and when I got up to leave, she hugged me like I was a member of hers.

She made sure I buttoned my coat before I went out the door.

I promised to come back soon, and vowed to find a way to get her dryer fixed.

We never did eat those cupcakes.

Bigger picture

My visit with Carmen showed me that a small act of kindness can bloom into something more significant. During our time together, it became clear she is struggling and I intend to do what I can to get her some help.

Shennan Jarboe, director of SICM’s food program, recommended contacting The Schenectady Community Action Program for assistance addressing a host of needs.

“If they don’t have the resources to address a specific issue, they have a lot of other resources that they can refer out to,” she said.

Organizations including City Mission of Schenectady, The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and SICM can also be excellent sources of information and assistance.

Shelly Ford, deputy director of SICM’s food program, offered these suggestions to bring a bit of brightness to the life of anyone who struggles to meet their daily needs:

* Surprise someone with a supermarket gift card or take them to the market and buy them groceries.

* Pay for the groceries of a stranger behind you in the checkout line.

* Give a small, useful gift like socks, a hat or a scarf.

* Give the gift of a fun outing: provide a family with movie tickets or passes to a local event.

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