JFS Perspectives

Friday, December 20, 2019

Year-End Reflections from Family Safety Net Director

Year-End Reflections from Family Safety Net Director

As our busiest season of the year comes to an end, I am humbly reminded why we do this work. The holiday season is a challenging time for staff and clients because emotions are high, we have lots of financial and relationship stressors, and there is always more to do than we have time for. As staff, we remind one another that it’s the holidays and that things will settle down in January. During the Jewish High Holy Days in September and October, we organize food drives at synagogues throughout Denver and the surrounding smaller cities. We collect literally tons of food for our food pantry and for our Thanksgiving program.

Thanksgiving 2019Then, each year in November, we provide Thanksgiving food boxes and turkeys to hundreds of people. In the last leg of our holiday stretch, we provide gifts and toys to hundreds more families and children during the December holidays. It all seems to take a tremendous amount of time and energy and by the time we get to the last couple of weeks of December, we are exhausted and grouchy.

However, some clients have recently reminded me of the power of our work and the reason we work so hard for our community and the people who walk through our doors.

Simon, an immigrant from Ukraine, volunteered in the pantry for years until he had a stroke. As a volunteer, he helped people from all over the world adjust to living in America. He interpreted for Russian-speaking clients and helped everyone feel comfortable in the food pantry. After his stroke, and the financial burden it put on him and his wife, Simon was forced to become a client of the food pantry. However, he remains immensely grateful for the opportunity to talk to people and help when he can, as well as guarantee that his family has enough food in their home by coming to our pantry. Simon reminds us of the goodness that people possess even when their lives have taken difficult turns.

Raad in food pantryAnother client, Raad, is a refugee from Iraq. He worked for the US military in Iraq and had to flee to the US about five years ago when his and his family’s lives became endangered because of the work he was doing on behalf of our country. He had his first Thanksgiving meal in the United States with the family of a Marine he had worked with in Iraq. Since then, his wife has learned to cook her own turkey. Raad came to JFS after some heart trouble. He was able to receive rent and utility help, as well as food and mental health services, and staff helped him get connected to the medical care he needed. In a recent story by the Denverite, Raad spoke about the services he has received at JFS: “Do you know what I call them?” Raad said of Jewish Family Service case workers and pantry volunteers. “The angels. They look for anyone to help. In Iraq, they asked me, ‘Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Shiite?'” said Raad, who is Christian. “In America, no one asks that.” 

Jane, a woman with disabilities, was recently referred to us for food, but when we called to give her some information about the pantry’s address and hours, she said that we would need to email her so that her daughter could help her; she was not able to write down the information we were telling her. She told us she desperately needed food but reported being unable to read or write at all. We’ve worked with many other older clients who have been illiterate, but this woman is not even 40 years old. We will be able to ensure that she has enough food for her household and make sure she has access to other resources in our community. She reminds us of the privilege of education and our support systems.

Bright Holidays gift wrappingOne of the kids who came for toys last week was incredibly excited. He waited for his dad to “shop” for his gift and then waited for the volunteers to wrap it. His eyes were bright, and he had a huge grin on his face. As he got his gift, he told the volunteers that this is the first wrapped gift he’s ever had! His father told us that although his kids would not have a tree this year, they would have gifts! A first for their family, and a reminder for me of how much we take for granted over the holidays.

David has been looking for work for a while now. He recently attended a session of our Job Club, a support and networking group for people seeking employment. He was having a very difficult time and was visibly emotional. He spent much of the meeting in tears, frustrated with his job search and feeling hopeless. Finally, this week, David was offered a job paying $68,000 per year along with a $5,000 signing bonus! His hard work and perseverance paid off, and our employment specialist was honored to help him stay motivated.

These individuals are all from different walks of life, different ages, genders, and nationalities. But each of them reminds us of how important our work is, the impact we have on lives, and the advantages, privileges, and opportunities we have had. At the same time, they affect us deeply as well.

These clients help us remember the “why” of the work we do rather than the tasks and services that are on our to-do lists. We sometimes get caught up in providing services—the organizing, the distributing, and all the tasks we have on our plate—and we lose sight of the reason we come into work every day. We were thankful for these reminders in these last few weeks. We are thankful that we can help people but are also thankful for the impact each of those people has on our lives as well.

-By Shelly Hines, Family Safety Net Director 

META DESCRIPTION: ​As our busiest season of the year comes to an end, JFS Family Safety Net Director Shelly Hines reflects on how she was recently reminded why we do the work we do.