Help Is In The Closet

September 30, 2012

A year and a half ago my husband and I had a very amazing experience.  We found ourselves in a situation where he had just had back surgery, we had no health insurance, and he had no job.  We struggled, especially me, trying to figure out how we would make ends meet.  Family and friends offered to ease the financial burden, but I didn’t feel right accepting it.  It’s not that I wouldn’t ask them for help if I HAD to, but I certainly wouldn’t ask them for help without first cancelling non-essential luxuries, like basic cable and internet, and selling any material possession that I could.  Asking for help would be a last resort.  That’s just how God made me, and judging by the amount of people I witness paying with groceries with food stamps whilst dressed in name brand clothing and talking on their iPhones, he doesn’t make many of us that way!

I prayed for God to provide, and he did.  We had been attending our church for less than a year.  When J had his surgery we received an enormous amount of support and blessings, both monetary and non.  A week after the surgery when we went to church, a gentleman walked up and gave J a check for $100.  We were touched and taken aback.  Of course, I sent him a thank you card.  The next week he thanked me for the card and said that, “it really wasn’t necessary for me to do that”, and kind of acted put off by the fact that I sent it.  Then he handed J another $100 check.

This went on for weeks.  Each time we tried to refuse it, and he told us that God gave him and his wife the idea at the same time, with each of them pondering on it for a few days before telling the other one.  He explained that God told them to help us, and they didn’t want any recognition for it.  They were doing what he told them to and we had to accept it.

During this time our friend had to have surgery himself and miss a lot of work.  We told him that we were okay, and would be fine without his financial assistance.  He didn’t listen, and whenever he had to decrease the amounts on the checks, he apologized profusely, as if HE had something to be ashamed of.   J and I were inspired, and our faith renewed by his act, and I honestly don’t know what we would have done without his assistance.  We vowed that when God blessed J with a job, we would find some way to pay it forward.

We pondered different ideas.  Giving individuals and families a check, as our friends did us, seemed like a good option, although we weren’t in a situation to be near as generous as our friends were.  Also, I had just really started to delve into the art of couponing, and I have a friend that uses couponing to help others, which seemed like a good option too.  However, when I thought about using couponing to help others, I often felt weird about it.  In my mind, it was like I was trying to be a control freak (which I am), and saying, “I can use this money way more wisely than the people God has asked me to help can, they will just blow it on non-essentials and I can do so much better than them.”.   We eventually settled on giving someone a financial contribution, rather it be cash, check or gift card, in the amount of $50 to $100 a month.  The recipient would be whomever God put on our hearts.  I was happy with our decision to give back, but something didn’t feel right about it.  I would soon know why.

One week I started the week with $5 cash and less than $1 in change in my wallet.  There was more in my checking account I had access to, but I challenged myself to see how long I could go without dipping into it.  At this time I had started taking my lunch to work to save money.  However, I worked an outside job, so it wasn’t like I could zap the leftovers from the night before and have a delicious lunch.  My lunches consisted of sandwiches, wraps, and salads, day after day.  Therefore on Tuesday of that week I decided to treat myself to a McDonalds happy meal and a sundae.  This was over a year ago and happy meals were $1.99 on Tuesdays and sundaes were $1.  I paid using the cash I had.  Sometime later in the week I went to CVS and Walgreens for some couponing.  I don’t remember exactly what I got, but I know there was body wash, dish detergent and band aids involved, and it was over 2 bags full of essential items, and I was able to pay with the cash I had without having to break out my debit card at either store!  I had turned a $5 bill into lunch for myself, and other needed items for my family.  I was quite proud.  It was then that I felt God telling me that I was right, and I could do SOOO much more with the money we were planning to give to people than they could, and help more people in the process.  My couponing was a gift I had been blessed with, and I knew, without a doubt, that it had to be used.

I struggled with exactly how I would go about doing it.  I’m very much a Type A person about some things, and I wanted to do it all very meticulously.  In the crazy mind of Alyson, I would have to spend $15-$25 on the stockpile each week, and keep stockpile items separate from the items my family uses so as not to take away from the people I am going to help, and this all just seemed too overwhelming.  Finally, the thought occurred to me that God didn’t care how much I spent, or if I used my own stuff, he just wanted me to help others by using my abilities!

I told J that evening, while showing him my loot, and he agreed that we had found our mission.  We started that night.  We were already taking a home cooked meal to a family that had recently started attending our church.  They were going through a similar job loss/surgery scenario and I decided to add a couple of bags of essentials to our offering.  I was a bit apprehensive, because I barely knew the family, and I didn’t want them to think, that by me bringing over laundry detergent, shampoo, soap and deodorant, I was trying to send them a message about a body odor problem, or that I thought they were destitute.  Fortunately, our gift was met with sincere appreciation, and a year later, the wife is one of my many coupon students!

Now that our mission was clear, the only question remaining was where we would store our stockpile.  The answer was revealed to us on the way home that night when I suddenly yelled, “closet of ill repute”, which was the name we had christened out closet in our den with, as it seemed to breed tons of useless junk hourly, and could not be opened unless you were wearing the proper protective equipment complete with crash helmet.

That weekend J began cleaning out said closet while I was at work.  You would have to know J to appreciate the magnitude of that statement, but trust me, it’s BIG!  By that Sunday afternoon we were in business.   A few weeks later when J received his first paycheck from a temporary job he had found, we put it to use, using about $20 from it to buy items for our stockpile to help others.  Trust me, we were very tempted to postpone beginning our mission.  After all, it was just a temporary job, and could end at any time, and we still had a ton of medical bills to pay.  We stayed strong in our faith, knowing that we had made a pact with God and it was our turn to uphold our end of the pact.

J’s temporary job, which started out as only a 1 week position, ended up lasting for 6 weeks.  With the 10 hours of overtime it paid every week he was bringing home more than before, and although we were still without health insurance, things were improving for us.  Meanwhile, our church angel insisted on continuing his mission to us, because God had specifically told him to help us until J found a permanent job, and this wasn’t permanent.  We tried to argue with him, but he insisted it was something he had to do.   It wasn’t until J left the temporary job for a permanent one, just over a year ago, that our friend stopped assisting us financially.

Since that time we have provided necessities to individuals, families, disaster relief efforts, and various non-profit organizations.  We have had to tweak our system for supplying the stockpile.  Due to coupon restrictions, offer limits, and the quality of weekly sales, it isn’t always possible to spend the same amount on the stockpile. Still, we have developed a good amount of stuff in the stockpile, and we now operate on more of a price-point based system.   What this means is I have set prices that I will pay for items, such as 25 cents for toothpaste, and whenever I find that item for that price or lower, I buy as many as I can while following the rules of the coupon and the store I am at.  We may not always help one family a week, or even one every month.  Some weeks or months we aren’t lead to anyone specifically that needs our help.  However, we never say no to whomever God puts on our hearts or in our paths.  I have left bags of blessings on the steps of homes that I felt led to.  I have put bags in the cars of people whom I know are struggling.  In the last year more than a dozen families, organizations and individuals have found help in our closet, and I have been more blessed in providing it than they have been for receiving it.

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