Recession Tales: Single mom swallows pride, relies on food bank


"Marie" is worried.

She has a diploma from Los Altos High School and a bachelor's degree in business administration -- but no job.

She owns a home in Mountain View and does charity work for her church -- but she relies on a local food bank to feed herself and her developmentally disabled daughter.

Every day, she looks for work, cares for her daughter, and runs errands for her ailing parents -- and she is struggling to stay afloat, she said.

Marie lost her job as an office manager in 2008 when the company moved overseas. She asked to remain anonymous for this story in order to protect her family's identity. It was hard for her to come to the Community Services Agency, the Mountain View nonprofit group that runs the food bank she visits, she said.

"I used to come with my sunglasses and a hat, because the people handing out food went to my church. I'm used to being the one handing out food at church," she said.

Marie said her savings have nearly run out. She has been receiving unemployment benefits for the past two years, but those checks will stop coming in two months, she said.

Food banks like CSA allow her to feed her family without borrowing money.

"There are so many people who go to bed at night with that debt hanging over their heads. I think that the miracle of my family is that we've not gone into debt," she said.

Marie said she has spent the past two years looking for jobs through former colleagues, and doing volunteer work for nonprofit groups in the hopes of being promoted to a paying position.

Neither approach has worked, she said.

She has significant personal responsibilities as well. As an only child, she runs errands, cooks and provides transportation for her parents, who are unable to care for themselves.

She also cares for her 16-year-old daughter, who has struggled with developmental disabilities since a childhood problem restricted oxygen flow to her growing brain, Marie said. She tries to teach her daughter skills that will help her find a job when she graduates from high school but worries about what her daughter's future holds.

Marie's daughter helps walk the family dogs, cook -- "We love the Food Channel," -- and care for Marie's parents. In spite of the challenges her daughter faces, Marie said she is grateful for the time they spend together.

"My daughter is healthy. I'm a lucky mom," she said.

Her two older children --a son and another daughter -- have already left home. Marie's ex-husband does not contribute to the family's finances, so her children have had to find ways of paying for their own college educations, she said.

Marie struggled to find career advice and financial support when she was laid off, she said.

"When you have been so self-sufficient for years, it can be hard to reach out for help," she said.

Marie said she has spent a lot of time researching support groups like the Community Services Agency, but has had some serendipitous moments as well. By chance, she discovered NOVA, a local career development agency through which she has been taking career development and computer skills classes for the past year.

"I don't want to sound religious, but I just heard 'Go to Foothill College and just show up.' I knock on this door, and this woman says 'Can I help you with anything?' I started to cry and I told her my story. She said 'You walked into the right place!' I walked into NOVA!" she said.

She finished one of NOVA's career certification courses last week, she said. She hopes that certificate will help her find work as an office manager again.

"In spite of all the obstacles, there is always something to work towards," she said.

Churches and nonprofits like NOVA and the Community Services Agency can provide huge benefits to everybody who finds themselves in financial trouble, she said.

"When I finally got rid of my pride, I realized how many resources are out there to help -- emotionally, financially, spiritually," Marie said.


Like this comment
Posted by kanank
a resident of Willowgate
on May 17, 2010 at 3:35 pm

It would be an understatement if somebody says Marie is going thru hell. I sincerely hope that something works out for her soon as the job market seems to be picking up. The fact that she is taking care of her parents and daughter how strong and resilient even under the most difficult circumstances speaks volume about her personality and the American spirit that permeates thru CSA and other helping agencies.

Like this comment
Posted by friendly neighbor
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I heard you can get 1000$ per month for taking care of parents who can't take care of themselves through a governmenr program

Like this comment
Posted by John the Man
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Marie: sell the house, let it go. Unless you put something extraordinary down (like half), you're paying a lot more on your mortgage than you would be for rent. Even if you have to walk away from it or its underwater, give it up.

In fact, until you rid yourself of that unnecessary expense and pay rent instead, I would suggest you shouldn't get help at all. You shouldn't be taking charity while you still build equity. That on its face is wrong and shouldn't be tolerated.

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Posted by reader
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Great story. I bet half the people you see on the streets have a backstory like this nowadays...

I know of no special rule of etiquette that says you shouldn't receive chartable help if you own a house. Don't listen to John the Man, listen to an actual financial planner and do what makes the most sense financially.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 18, 2010 at 12:01 am

"John the Man" speaks like the voice of Wall Street. Do not submit, Marie. Providing you with a safety net is much more important than transporting narcissistic psychopaths to LA on a high-speed toy.

Like this comment
Posted by Jackie
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 18, 2010 at 9:08 am

Marie, do NOT sell your house, You will wind up paying more in rent and have nothing to show for it in the end. You made the right move by finding NOVA. Stay with it!! The theory that one should not be allowed to receive charitable help if you own a house is absurd, (I've never heard of such a thing!!. Your story is sad, but lets face it, times are hard all around, even for those with college education. Good luck to you, and god bless!!

Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2010 at 2:06 pm

John, you are just flat out wrong on this. I 100% guarantee you that noone at CSA would blink at providing their services to someone in real need that happens to own a home. Keeping her world together is the best way to assure that Marie's tough time is just that- a tough, but finite, time.

Like this comment
Posted by Ginger
a resident of Castro City
on May 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Nice story. Maybe someone will hear about her story and offer her a job.
Does anyone out there have an opening suited for this nice woman.
Lets see what some of us can come up with. Tell a friend.

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