A tiny bit of normalcy for a 3 yr old...

The Short: For over a year now friends, family, and acquaintances have been saying "If there's any way that we can help:If there's anything you need, let us know!". Well, here it is: I need $500 to keep my beautiful daughter in preschool for the next 8 weeks, so she can have a chance to just be a kid, and I can regain my sanity for a few hours a week and get my feet under me.

The Long: It has been very difficult for me to sit down and write this. Partly because it's a struggle these days to find any amount of uninterrupted time to think, much less get anything done, but mostly because this feels very awkward for me...a blanket petition for help is not something I've ever done. But since this is really for my children, I'm pushing past the discomfort and embarrassment and doing it for them.
Currently my children (3 year old Charlotte and 7 month old Levi) and I are collecting cash aid (welfare) and food stamps, as I am unemployed and my husband moved to Alaska (with his family) 2 months ago. He has always been the sole provider for our family, until he lost his job over a year ago. For a little more background on what my family has gone through in the last few years, here is a piece that was written about us by an intern at Saddleback Church. The names have been changed, but the story is true.


(I realize I don't have to explain all this in such detail, but I believe in transparency, especially where the giving of money is involved.)

My children and I are blessed to have a home to live in (that my mother owns) that we do not have to worry about being evicted from for lack of rent. I drive a 2000 Dodge Ram pickup that has significant body damage to it and probably wouldn't be worth $2,000 if I sold/traded it in. It ain't pretty, but it's paid off, lol! We receive approximately $1,000 per month in a combination of cash aid and food stamps. I have been going to the food pantry at Saddleback Church's PEACE Center for a few months now, and am looking into finding others in the area. We go to 2-3 church meetings per week where dinner is bought for us by friends. We also have backyard chickens that are currently providing us with about 2 dozen eggs per week.

Of the $1,000 a month that we get, about $400 of it is food stamps. Since I am breastfeeding the baby I don't have to pay for formula or baby food, but that just means I have to eat more myself. The remaining $600 is what I have to pay for gas (my only vehicle is a gas-guzzling 13 yr old truck) and utilities. And because I have become very involved in Celebrate Recovery in the last 6 months, I attend 3 meetings a week (in Lake Forest, Orange, and Irvine) in addition to a Separated Wives support group through Saddleback. (If you're wondering why I go to Celebrate Recovery, my areas of recovery are Adult Child of Family Dysfunction, Co-Dependency, Anger, and Survivor of Childhood Bullying. I don't drink, smoke, or do drugs and neither does my husband [so none of our money goes to those things]. We have not wound up where we are as a result of any chemical or sexual addictions, just "normal" hurts, hang-ups, and habits mostly from our childhoods.) I always try to carpool or use a friend or family member's smaller car, but still gas isn't cheap and it seems like I'm spending close to $200 a month. Our utilities (water, electric, gas, cell phone, internet) come out to a little over $450 per month.
As I'm writing this I realize how funny this must look:the math just doesn't add up. All I can say is that somehow the ends have been meeting up until this point, but I honestly think that is because I let all of the utility bills go as late as they can before I have to pay them, so in any given month I think I'm actually only paying half of them. None of my bills are ever current these days. And on top of all this, while my mom doesn't expect me to pay rent, over the last 7 years that my husband and I have lived here it has always been understood that we would pay the property taxes for her ($5,000 per year). On a normal income that is an incredible deal, only $600 a month for a 3 bedroom house:but now it seems virtually impossible. Taxes are due in the next week ($2,500) and then again in April. Without our contribution it will be a struggle for her to pay them on her own.
My husband has tried to help me where he can over the last couple of months, but he is still unemployed and has a very small nest egg left for him to live on until he finds work. He wants to move back down to OC soon so he can be involved with the children, but we both agree he will not be moving in with us for quite a while (maybe a year or more) while he gets his mental health issues under control or at least better understood. So, of course I want my children to have their father in their lives, but that means that he will be able to help with our expenses even less because he will need to pay to rent a room somewhere nearby.
When my husband moved out, he left me with not only 2 babies to care for, but 3 rescued dogs, 4 rescued cats, chickens, and a house that is completely overwhelming for 2 people to try to keep clean, much less one. (My mother is a hoarder, so when she lived in this house before us it was:well, packed to the gills with junk and very difficult to live in. After 3 years of living here on our own, I have finally gotten most of the house to a livable and safe state for children, but it is far from ideal and very difficult to keep clean, especially by myself with 2 little ones to care for.) So, after almost a month of being the sole care provider for a VERY active 3 yr old and a baby 24/7 and absolutely losing my mind trying to also find time to clean the house, finish our bankruptcy, pay bills, and still attend church and meetings: I concluded I need help. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to afford it for long (more than a month or so) on my own, I stepped out in faith and found a local little church-run preschool that Charlotte can go to for 2 mornings a week from 8:30-11:30 for $225 per month. That $225 buys me about 6 hrs a week of sanity, and I try to cram as much cleaning, organizing, grocery shopping, and bankruptcy paperwork as I can into that time. But the point at which I can no longer afford it on my own is fast approaching:
And lastly, before my husband moved to Alaska I had taken the babies and left our home because the volume and level of severity of the fights between us had escalated (due to the PTSD) to a point that I had asked him to leave and he refused. Things had gotten completely out of control and were visibly affecting Charlotte to the point that she was talking about it. It was then that I decided enough was enough and even though I had nowhere to go right away, I knew God would bless my decision to do the right thing. We were "homeless" for about 4 weeks, bouncing around between friends' homes and eventually went to Kansas for 2 weeks to help my sister pack up and move out here (she's going through her own nasty divorce). 2 days after we got home my husband got on a plane to Alaska, and the children and I moved back into our home. About a week later I was feeling convicted by the Holy Spirit to offer our spare bedroom (where my husband had been sleeping) to a young woman in my Celebrate Recovery meeting who has been "homeless" (bouncing between friend's couches) for a few years. I am not asking her to pay rent because she can't afford it and needs to save her money to repair her car (she's been taking the bus). It turns out that her day job is as a certified childcare provider at the courts for children going through traumatic life events (!!), and she is a wonderful woman after God's heart. She has been a total blessing to me and my children, and I am grateful every day that God put us together.

First, let me start by saying that I am 100% open and interested in any advice that anyone can give me on making what I've already got stretch farther. I am by no means only interested in cash support. After what I've gone through, all sense of pride and independence has fallen away and I am open to whatever God has for me. If you have been here before and you know of some ways that I can shave off some expenses or generate income, I would truly welcome your input. I believe that this situation is somewhat temporary, because I expect that within the next 60-90 days my husband will get settled down here and either he will get a job, or I will. It's far from my first choice, but if he can't find work I will do it and he can take care of the kids.
I am currently exploring any form of public assistance that I can find. So far I am only really aware of food pantries and some programs that offer one-time assistance with utility bills.

· Payments made directly to any utility companies in my name. For your peace of mind it is not necessary to give me cash or checks.
· Charlotte's preschool is $225 per month, and I'm hoping to be able to keep her in until at least the end of January to give me time to get the bankruptcy finished up and things around the house simplified so that I can better manage things (payment can again be made directly to her preschool without going through me)
· My husband needs to rent a room somewhere in the Orange County area, the closer to Orange the better. The less he has to pay for rent, the more he can put towards helping me with our expenses/utilities. He will most likely need a place starting Dec. 18, and is willing to take a short-term arrangement (including house sitting or pet sitting over the holidays) until something more permanent is found. He is a Christian, Iraq war veteran, very quiet (ONLY ever gets loud with me) and keeps to himself, doesn't drink, smoke, drugs, or party. Would like to find a place that would allow him to have Charlotte spend nights with him occasionally.
· As an Adult Child of Family Dysfunction, I recognize that I did not have the best models of parenting growing up. Now I am tackling it by myself as a single parent (at least for the next year), and I feel completely and utterly unprepared. I would welcome and greatly appreciate any kind of counseling or mentorship in this area.

· Any kind of hypo-allergenic or grain-free dog food (one of my dogs is corn-intolerant, which means I can't give her any of the more affordable dog kibble)
· Any direct food donations to save me from driving down to the Food Pantry in Lake Forest ( I can provide you a list of "most wanted" food items for our family. I know beggars can't be choosers, but 3 yr olds are notoriously choosy:and I am still trying to feed my family as healthy as I can on our budget.)
· Gift cards to any local grocery retailers (Ralphs, Target, Wal-Mart, Sprouts, Trader Joe's, Albertson's, Vons) or gas stations (Chevron is literally walking distance from my house).
· Since I am almost always tired and at the end of my rope these days, I am looking for opportunities for Charlotte to go and have fun with other kids (or even fun-loving grown-ups) for a few hours, instead of being stuck with a tired, cranky, un-fun Mommy. Weekdays after her nap (she's usually up by 3), Saturdays from 8-11am or 3-6pm, or Sundays after 6pm would be great! She's energetic, funny, polite, potty trained, no allergies, and loves animals and cleaning, lol

· Plant-based kitchen scraps (compostable) are great chicken food, and keep me from having to buy a 50 lb bag of chicken food so often. Any fruits, veggies, breads, pasta, rice, oatmeal, etc (rotten is FINE):no meats, bones, egg shells, citrus, or HOT peppers. Even food with sauces/seasoning on it is great, if you're going to throw it out, they'll eat it!
· Animal-based kitchen scraps (cheese, other dairy products, meats, fish) are great for my dog that can't eat grain-based kibble (even if they are going/gone bad). Just no cooked bones. She mostly lives off our animal-based kitchen scraps when I can't afford special dog food. I have been feeding her this way for years, and have done lots of research on it, it won't make her sick.
· Avocados. Charlotte loves them, I love them, and they are an EXCELLENT source of nutrients for a breastfeeding mom.

And, on top of all this, I have no idea at all how/if I will be able to afford a Christmas for my daughter this year. I don't mean anything extravagant, she doesn't even know what a wish list is and never asks for anything, but I'm not even sure we have enough for a Christmas tree.

I don't really like using this direct approach of asking for what we need, largely because I would NEVER want anyone to feel obligated or guilted into helping us, or worse yet that I would somehow judge or rank the people in my life according to the amount of help they've given. I know that times are tough for everyone right now, and if nothing at all comes of this, then so be it. I trust that my God will provide. I just don't ever want it to be said that pride on my part or an unwillingness to ask stood between my family and the blessings God had in store for us.
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Janna McCain 
Orange, CA
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