Morris County is one of the richest counties in the United States, but the secret hiding behind closed doors, right in our neighborhoods, is that many of our friends and neighbors are struggling. Almost 22,000 Morris County residents live below the poverty line.
Poverty doesn’t just mean you lack the luxuries that so many of us enjoy - it means doing without the comforts that we all count on. It means thousands of children who are hiding the fact that a subsidized school lunch is their only full meal when food stamp money runs out at the end of the month. It means that your next door neighbor may be making the choice between heating her home comfortably or repairing the car so she won’t lose her first and second jobs. Poverty is a series of hard realities and even harder choices.
I recently met a local mother who’s been struggling to survive in a town that most associate with wealth and privilege. From the outside everything looks normal. Her house is large and she and her kids are clean and put together - but that’s an increasingly difficult illusion to maintain. The truth is that her home is mostly vast, unfinished, uninsulated space and it has no heat or working appliances. It’s a shell of a luxury home that gives less comfort than any Appalachian shack.
The abandoned expansion of the house is symbolic of the end of her previously comfortable life. XXXX made the choice to leave an unhealthy marriage and get a divorce for the good of her family. She’d been a stay-at-home mom for 17 years and knew it would be hard to make a living at first, but she was unprepared for the hard times that would follow when every bit of financial support she had dried up abruptly. All remodeling and payments on the home ceased, as did health insurance, court-ordered child support and any other funds that brought normalcy to her family’s life.
“When I signed the divorce papers, I had a grand plan for my life. I wanted to return to school to get trained as a medical assistant, get out of this house and live a life that might have been harder in some ways, but which would be good for my children. Without the child support I was promised, I can’t even afford the bare necessities in life. We used to be a normal family with food & clothes & heat. Now I feel like I’ve lost all my dignity.”
Despite working three part-time jobs and selling whatever they didn’t need, XXXX finds herself faced with seemingly insurmountable financial challenges every day. The boiler stopped working, as did the appliances. Pipes burst once there was no working heat and, unable to afford a new boiler, the family faced last year’s long Winter with nothing but space heaters to keep away the cold.
And as life got harder, finances soon became the least of XXXX’s worries because the stress isn’t all hers to bear. It’s overwhelming her children as well. XXXX’s eldest has battled through feelings of abandonment and hopelessness. Her younger children complain constantly of the cold and will sleep excessively just to escape the discomfort. Something as simple as a broken bike means making the choice between depriving a child of fun or putting food on the table and gas in the car for another week.
What makes this situation even harder is that the children are surrounded every day by classmates who’ve never had to worry about money beyond their own allowances. They’re embarrassed to admit to feeling cold, hungry and scared when their friends are living such different lives. Poverty is depriving them of their childhoods in countless ways.
And this is where we, as a community, come in.
XXXX is capable of supporting her family and escaping this hole she’s found herself in. She just needs our help to get established. Once she has a warm apartment for her family, she can start fresh and give her kids the life they deserve. This family has lost their support system and they’re not going to survive without some help.
Most of us have been fortunate enough to find help when we needed it most. We have supportive spouses or parents who could bail us out in a time of need. Where would any of us be without our safety net of family and friends? That support can make the difference between recovering from misfortunes quickly or winding up on the streets.
As the weather gets colder, time and hope is running out for XXXX and her kids. The next step will be living in a homeless shelter to avoid another Winter in a dangerously cold home. The money we contribute will all go towards returning this family to a normal, sustainable life without them needing to take drastic measures just to survive.
Even if you’re not wealthy, I bet you can spare a few dollars to help this local family find a home with heat. I’ve set up an online fund for contributions. If we all help and pay our good fortune forward, it won’t be long before this family is thriving.
Thank you for taking the time to read this story. Please contribute online or get in touch with me to help this local family!