Let’s avoid the P-word today.
Just for some clarity, we’ll offer its dictionary definition: “The state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.” Need another hint? The U.S. Census Bureau uses specific numbers to determine which people are experiencing that condition. A family of four with an annual household income of $22,000 or less qualifies for that status. In Terre Haute, 12,094 children live in homes with “little or no money, goods, or means of support,” according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2008 through 2010. In Indiana, only Gary and Elkhart have higher percentages of kids under 18 immersed in that situation.
But repetition of stats, percentages, phrases like “highest in the state,” and the P-word gradually numb the senses. In fact, after that second paragraph, I’m grateful for all who’ve hung with us up to this sentence.
Images tell stories better than numerals and economic terminology. The flesh-and-blood realities exist inside the stats and jargon, and I’ve encountered a few real-life reminders during the past week … during conversations with folks staying at the Light House Mission … while listening to Danny Tanoos, the Vigo County schools superintendent, explain how free lunches are often the last full meal of the day for many youngsters … through a chat with the Rev. Honnalora Hubbard, chairperson of the Salvation Army’s 2011 Christmas Campaign.
Not surprisingly, Hubbard emphasized the need for a heartfelt response by the community this year. The numbers — yes, statistics — back up her call. Last year, the Salvation Army served 1,650 families through various holiday programs, such as delivery of food baskets, toy and clothing shopping trips for kids and teens, and “adopt-a-family” provisions of gifts and day-to-day necessities.
This year, the Salvation Army expects 1,800 families to sign up for help.
Each family, each person has a story. Hubbard understands. She has one, too.
Today, Hubbard is a 41-year-old wife and mom who works as executive director of Terre Haute Ministries, an association of local congregations. She smiles as she talks about her family — her husband of 21 years, Billy, and their son, Anthony, now serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
The circumstances of Hubbard’s childhood are a stark contrast to her life today. Nine people shared a small, three-bedroom house west of the Wabash. Things got tougher after her dad died when Honnalora was just 7. “I grew up in a troubled, poor, abusive home,” she explained in an impressively composed voice. When friends asked why young Honnalora was skipping meals, she’d tell them, “I’m on a diet.” Hers was a “very dysfunctional family.”
Yet, out of that “horrible childhood,” she said, “The Lord has done amazing healing in my life.”
Thus, Hubbard leans on some good memories from her seven brief years with her dad, especially from her last Christmas with him.
He worked at the A&P Supermarket in Terre Haute. Each year, her dad asked the store to donate some of its bulk candy on Christmas Eve, and he would deliver it to neighbors, door-to-door, dressed as Santa Claus. Meanwhile, he’d also spend several days making batches of chocolate fudge from his mother’s recipe, and take that treat to friends along his Christmas Eve route as Santa.
The last time Hubbard’s father played Santa, he made a stop at his own family’s home. She was 6. “I saw his eyes, and I realized it was my dad,” she recalled.
Later, she asked him why he would pretend to be Santa. “Because I want to help people,” he answered, adding, “If I could, I would do more.” He died the following year.
This fall, when local Salvation Army officials approached Hubbard about serving as the Christmas Campaign chairperson, “That story came flooding back and I realized this was my chance to do ‘the more.’” Her wish is to see an extraordinary effort by a community coping with stubbornly high unemployment and wage rates well below the state average. The reaction by Hauteans in times of past hardships has been miraculous, she said. The upcoming holiday season could inspire another miracle through making a good, lasting memory for those who’ve lost jobs, homes, loved ones or hope.
The Christmas spirit. It goes beyond money. It’s giving with care, and without judgment. It occurs every year around this time.
“There’s all this amazing stuff that happens in this community at Christmastime, where needs are met, generosity happens, families are strengthened,” Hubbard said, “and nobody realizes it unless somebody points it out.”
That’s “the more” her dad mentioned. That’s the chance for healing. That’s a glimmer of light in the midst of, yes, poverty.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.