There are many stories in the news these days that seem too much, too biased, and too unworthy of our attention. The following is not one of them. Be prepared; there’s a key detail at the end. Written by John Peragine in Saturday’s New York Times…
“Stacy Perez never could have imagined turning to a food bank to feed her family. Ms. Perez, 43, a surgical nurse, and her husband, Alfredo, 42, a welder at a factory that makes steel castings, had built a good, stable life for themselves and their four children. But on June 3, 2015, all of that changed in an instant.
Ms. Perez, who was on maternity leave after the birth of her daughter, had just made arrangements with her manager to return to work the next week when her phone rang. Her son Cruz had been badly injured in an accident. Cruz, 14, had been out with his cousin, going door to door raising money for his baseball team. He was crossing a street on his bike when he was struck by a car.
‘When I arrived and saw the ways his arms were moving and the amount of blood on his head, I knew he had a traumatic brain injury,’ Ms. Perez recalled. She rode with him in the ambulance to the hospital where she worked, but his injuries were so serious that he was airlifted to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, about 60 miles to the west.
After Cruz underwent emergency surgery, the doctors told the family that they had done everything possible and that it would be touch and go. Even if Cruz survived, they were told, he would be in a vegetative state. Ms. Perez refused to accept this. ‘Today’s diagnosis is not tomorrow’s prognosis,’ she said in a recent interview.
And yet, the severity of Cruz’s injuries and his need for round-the-clock care forced the family to make difficult decisions. Ms. Perez indefinitely delayed her return to work, and her husband took a leave from his job. The family had some short-term disability insurance, but their finances would be tight.
Cruz’s rehabilitation was difficult, and slow. He was released from the children’s hospital after about three weeks and was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation center closer to home. During this time, Stacy was breastfeeding her baby, Olivia, and taking care of their other sons, Marcos, now 21, and Santos, 16.
Cruz returned home in August 2015, but his rehabilitation routine did not allow Stacy to return to work. ‘Cruz had therapy appointments three times a day,’ she said, ‘and there were trips to Iowa City weekly. I had to do everything for Cruz. He had to learn to talk, walk and eat. It became my life.’
Mr. Perez returned to his job at the steel castings factory, picking up as many hours as he could. His annual income of about $46,000 was too high for the family to qualify for food stamps or Supplemental Security Income, and they struggled to pay their bills. For three years, Stacy stayed home to take care of Cruz. She was torn between the responsibility she felt to solve the family’s financial problems and her pride, which made her reluctant to accept help. Plenty of other people were more needy than they were, she thought. ‘I cooked a lot of beans, rice and pasta during that time,’ she said. A neighbor often stopped by to check on the family, bringing food because he knew they could use it. Often, Ms. Perez would hide when she saw him coming because she was too proud to accept the food.
The neighbor encouraged Ms. Perez to visit the River Bend Foodbank, which distributes about 17 million meals a year from a warehouse on Davenport’s South Side. It is among 200 food banks and about 60,000 food pantries affiliated with Feeding America…
After some prodding, Ms. Perez agreed to check it out. She arrived to find shelves of food stacked to the ceiling. ‘I was conflicted because I did not want a handout,’ she said. ‘It was really hard to accept assistance, and I wanted to give a lot of the food back.’
When she returned home, she said, her children’s faces lit up when they saw all the food. At that moment, she knew she had made the right decision. ‘Having that food gave my children hope,’ she said. ‘People don’t realize the impact a trauma can have on a family. It affects everyone. Having food line our cabinets again meant there was light at the other side of what he had been through.’
Ms. Perez and her family returned to the food bank at least once a month for five months, and things began to get better. She began making tamales, using a family recipe, and bringing them to a local homeless shelter. Word got around about the tamales, and her friends started ordering them. Ms. Perez began selling them at bars and became known locally as the ‘tamale girl.’
Ms. Perez returned to work about six months ago, juggling a pair of full-time nursing jobs. She and her husband would love to own a home, and she is working extra hours to save for a down payment.
Cruz, now 19, fared much better than his doctors initially predicted. He graduated on time with his high school class and now attends Project Search at Saint Ambrose University, where he is learning life skills so he can live independently. He still suffers from seizures and needs regular monitoring, medication and treatment.
Ms. Perez does not make as many tamales these days, although people continue to ask for them. And she is grateful for the River Bend Foodbank, which she said she had not known about ‘until I needed it’…”
What a great story… what great work… what a way to make a difference, offering hope to another.
My brother, Mike, serves as the President & CEO of the aforementioned food bank. He has taught me much, especially how we can solve hunger and care for those in need. It starts, no less, by working together. What a positive difference we make, friends, when we learn to work together.