As the sun rises on a beautiful morning in Tacoma, Wash., hundreds of people stand at the front of a line that will eventually include more than 6,500 guests of honor. In it Julie, 42, is among the early risers for this event—just one of Convoy of Hope’s 27 community outreaches in 2013.
“Hezzy, Monet, let’s go!” she says to her 5-year-old twins as the gates open for the outreach. “We’re going to get you some school supplies.”
Hezzy, short for Hezekiah, and Monet scramble around Julie’s feet as she guides them through the crowd. Hezzy has on two different flip-flops, and Monet has on an old pair of shoes that are well beyond their wear. No matter, Julie is unmistakably proud of them and doesn’t hesitate when asked why she came to the outreach.
“I’m a single mom, I love my kids, and I work my tail off for them, but I still can’t make it on my own,” she says bluntly. “I heard there were going to be school supplies here, and I didn’t have the money to buy them for my babies to start kindergarten.”
According to Julie, she and the twins live in subsidized housing in Salishan—one of the poorer sections of Tacoma.
The three go from tent to tent where they receive school supplies, new shoes, a warm meal and a first-ever family portrait.
“This is unreal,” says Julie. “I came here for school supplies, and we’ve gotten so much more. I’m so thankful because I’ve really had a hard time lately.”
Julie says she used to make enough money to live a comfortable life, but after she gave birth to the twins prematurely, her husband left and finances grew thin.
“I lost both my jobs after they were born because I had to stay home and take care of them,” she says of the twins. “Then I lost my housing and had to depend on the local mission for help.”
Jeanette, a volunteer who is stuffing bags to hand out to families in the Kids Zone area, hands Hezzy and Monet each a bag full of goodies.
“I understand what she’s going through,” says Jeanette, giving Julie a smile. “I’ve been there before when I needed help for my children and someone was there for me. That changed my perspective greatly and lit a passion in me to want to help other people. That’s why I am here today—to give back.
This is unreal, I came here for school supplies, and we’ve gotten so much more.
Jeanette is one of more than 1,000 volunteers who served the guests of honor in this Pacific Northwest community. She says there are too many families in the Tacoma and Seattle area living below the poverty line not to do something. “Because of Convoy of Hope,” she says emphatically, “many of them are getting the help they desperately need today.”
According to Darwin Boston, a Convoy of Hope outreach director, the Tacoma outreach is core to Convoy of Hope’s mission to help the impoverished. “Having the opportunity to help Julie and her kids is why we do this,” he says.
Julie’s second-to-last stop is at the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) tent. Inside, she joins other women who receive free advice on breast cancer prevention.
Yolanda, 29, heard about NBCF and came with her mother, three daughters and sisters—all of whom are members of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana. “We often can’t afford to get to a clinic, let alone pay for the basic services,” she says. “Something like this is a great help to Native American communities here in the Northwest.”
“We’ve gotten a lot of helpful information from the NBCF,” she continues. “I learned about self-examination and cancer prevention. I couldn’t have afforded any of this. Having Convoy of Hope in my family’s life today has made a lot of things easier.
“We got to eat, play and just be together. Being here together today, in such an uplifting environment, is a blessing.”
As Julie, Yolanda, their families and the thousands of other guests of honor make their way through the exit gates, they’re handed free bags of groceries. The day’s events finally catch up with Julie as she fights back tears while looking down at the new shoes on her kids’ feet. “Thank God for this day,” she says. “We needed it, even more than I knew.”