When I agreed to co-chair this year’s Community Human Services Holiday Gift Card Drive, whose goal is to provide 550 of Pittsburgh’s needy and/or homeless with a holiday gift, allowing them the dignity to choose for themselves what they’d most like or most need, I did so with one thought in the back of my head.
I know what it’s like to struggle.
It might not be politically correct to talk about this, but oh well, I’m gonna.
When my husband and I went for the dream of owning a restaurant just prior to my identity reveal, I honestly had my head in the clouds. And up in those clouds were giant bags of money. MONEY MONEY MONEY!
I laugh now because I’m older and wiser and I understand that the restaurant industry, when you’re just a regular person trying to start something, is so hard. Do it in downtown Pittsburgh and you’ve REALLY given yourself a challenge. We were hit pretty quickly with the realities of cash flow after I was fired from my nicely-paying job, and then a week after we opened the restaurant, Market Square was transformed into a giant pile of dirt and it would remain a giant pile of dirt until our restaurant caught fire, one year ago today. That, my friends, is called a “triple whammy.”
We were lucky to survive the construction, as not many businesses in Market Square did. I thank you for that because many times the restaurant was filled with readers.
And there were hard times. Very hard times. Beyond paycheck to paycheck. Penny to penny. It was incredible stress and strain and it was harder times than any of my sisters or my parents probably realize (right now, my mother is going to call me and lecture me and I guarantee she will work “United States of America” in there somewhere.)
It was especially hard because while my husband and I were never anything more than middle class, we never really struggled. We had money for what we needed. Then it was a new reality and a new existence. A restaurant we were trying to live off of and me, unemployable. Toxic. You think I haven’t tried to find a full-time job since I was fired? LOL. I am uninterviewable. Unhireable. I have strong opinions about the mayor and the largest employer in the city, UPMC. My love is nonprofit work, but even I can understand why the nonprofits aren’t too keen to give me a second glance. I’ve stopped trying and instead focus on helping out at the restaurant and in the near future, monetizing this site a bit. Might as well make some money off of it.
Add all that together and cash flow became a trickle and money became a Thing and if it wasn’t for a ridiculously low mortgage payment and the safety net of my mother and father to give us breathing room occasionally, well, I understand why the bottom falls out on people and they find themselves homeless.
I’m so blessed. Even during the hardest times and these current hard times as I live with constant noise in my head, I am so so so blessed and I count it every day that I have a healthy family, that my children never once realized how hard times had become, that they never wanted for anything, that I have a safety net to catch me if I need it. Without those things, nothing separates me from the people that CHS is trying to give gifts to this year.
And here’s the thing. I believe that when you don’t have, you should give, because for some reason it opens you to a greater perspective that money is just a thing. Lowercase. Not a Thing. I couldn’t give much. But when a friend was raising money for a charity or via Kickstarter, I threw in five bucks. Drove my husband batty. But it felt good. Good karma out there just waiting to turn the bend and hopefully come back to me. Maybe that’s selfish.
Things are better. They were scary, but they’re better now. Hopefully they continue to get better. But you see, THAT’S why I am co-chairing this fundraising drive. And that’s why I hope you can spare some bucks to buy a gift card and donate it to CHS. Get one for a store on the busline. Like Target or Subway. $10. $20. Whatever. You can mail it to CHS or you can bring it to the Cookies and Cards Holiday Reception event being held next Monday, December 5 at Shiloh Inn. There’s no charge to attend. Just bring a gift.
I’ll be there and I’ll hug you and thank you and toast you for your generosity of spirit and I’ll hope you realize that by helping out, you’ve joined hands with others to create a safety net for these folks, where once there was none.
That’s just being a good neighbor.