Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 23: Feeding a True Giver - Joy's Story

Ever since hearing about it last fall, Amber and I have been extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of buying into a local community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which is being run through our local Center for Mental Health. In a CSA, you buy shares in the farm and pick up your portion weekly throughout the summer. In the case of this particular CSA, you have the option for signing up for a brief spring session (April and May, which includes mostly winter greens) or a full summer session (June through October). The prices come out extremely reasonable, given the amount (and diversity) of organic food which you get. We opted for a single share, though I think that, if it goes well, we may go for a double share next year. Our goal is to transition our eating more to vegetables anyway, so it seems like a reasonable way to get our supply.

Our local CSA is the Aspire Indiana Farm. You can find a CSA, farmer's market, or other locally-grown option near you through the Local Harvest website.

What does this have to do with giving? Well, early on in the project we decided that we'd like to buy shares for someone into this program, preferably someone with a large family. Almost as soon as we decided that, an opportunity presented itself.

Joy's Story
One of Amber's classmates - let's call her Joy - recently became the guardian of four children. In addition, she has four children of her own. So, according to the math, she is living in a household with 8 kids, and they range from ages 4 to 17. Plus a 41-year-old husband. Joy is 30 and a cancer survivor.

The story of how Joy came to be guardian of these children is both tragic and inspiring. The children's father passed away last June, leaving them in the care of their mother. She had some issues, including drug-related ones, and ended up being arrested. The four children were placed in state custody. They were fortunately able to be placed the same foster home.

Unfortunately, the foster home they were placed in was headed by a woman of incredibly poor judgement. She was dating a convicted sexual predator, knew it, and allowed him to spend several nights over at the house. Three nights a week, in fact, so that he would spend just enough nights at his own place that he wouldn't have to tell his case worker that he was living in the same house as a bunch of kids.

The kids, of course, were not pleased about this, but they felt like they couldn't report the foster parent, because then they'd be moved to a new foster home, and there was absolutely no guarantee that they'd be able to stay together.

Enter Joy who (somehow - that part of the story I haven't gotten yet) learned about the situation and decided that it was unacceptable. She was an at-risk youth, raised by an alcoholic mother, and just couldn't leave the kids in that sort of a situation. "I just felt like I could show them a different path," she said.

Despite the challenges, Joy finds the experience rewarding and is glad she took on the challenge. When asked what the biggest reward is, she replied that it was the ability to help teach them things that, in their former life, they'd never been exposed to. "Every time they learn something new, because they don't see the world like we do."

Joy wanted the opportunity to show these kids a different path, and now they're in a household where the mother is going to college instead of jail. I don't know if it'll be enough, but I do know that it's a noble effort. Way to go, Joy!

(Note: The above is based on a brief phone discussion/interview with Joy. I am hoping to get a more lengthy opportunity to talk to her in the future, so the account of this story in the book should be much more detailed.)

A Gift of Fresh Food
One of the biggest challenges for Joy has been supplying the family with fresh fruits and vegetables. When the family consisted of 6 people, she made a priority to budget for some fresh foods, but jumping up to 10 means that they're pretty much forced to go with what's on sale. Fresh fruits and vegetables, sadly, are usually much more expensive than boxes of macaroni and cheese.

When Amber happened to overhear Joy discussing this, it was a no-brainer. We got in touch with Joy and offered to pay for her family's double-share in the Aspire Indiana Farm over the summer session. It's a small repayment for such an act of generosity, but I'm sure that the universe will reward her even more in the future.