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Warmest regards: The true meaning of poverty

When I was a lot younger my friends and I sometimes told our “poor stories.”

I put that in quotes because even though we used the word “poor,” we all realized we didn’t know the meaning of the word.

I think today’s phrase “financially challenged” would be more accurate.

I would not have been aware of my parent’s financial struggles if it weren’t for the unbelievable actions of my fourth-grade nun.

I was happy in Catholic school and was doing well until I had an unfortunate experience with the fourth-grade nun. She had no tolerance for those with limited financial means.

She insisted I wasn’t welcome in the class until I gave her a quarter to pay for a notebook.

My father worked as a coal miner in a small independent mine that flooded a lot. When that happened there was no work and no money coming in. My mother said she didn’t have a quarter to give me until he got paid.

The nun told me to go home and not come back until I paid for the notebook. My mother went there to explain our circumstances but it just enraged the nun. She told me to leave and never come back.

I think I was the only “good little kid” to get thrown out of school in fourth grade.

Until that happened, I never knew how much my parents struggled financially.

My mother was a whiz at creating wonderful meals from a few cheap ingredients or from our bounty when my father went hunting.

I never felt poor. I thought I had a wonderful life.

I will say that experience has made me acutely aware of how some people struggle to have enough food. It’s why I have a passion for supporting charities that help the poor.

It’s been especially bad lately for communities hit with hurricanes and flooding from tropical storms.

Here in the U.S. when a hurricane or severe tropical storm wipes out an area, within a few days help comes in the form of food, water and rescue for stranded people.

Five years later, there is little or no sign of devastation.

After Hurricane Charley flattened the Florida towns of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, I cried as I drove through the area.

Just a few months before, I had seriously considered buying one of the neat little bungalows in Punta Gorda.

After Charley wiped out much of the town, I couldn’t get over the total devastation.

Yet, a year or so later, many were calling Hurricane Charley “the best thing that ever happened to the town.” All the old cottages along with the downtown area were replaced with a beautifully designed new look.

That’s not the case in Haiti. Five years after Hurricane Matthew wiped out much of southern Haiti, many are still homeless.

A few months ago landslides buried more of the few remaining homes.

“People that had next to nothing lost what little they had,” said one news account.

What impacted me were photographs of Haitians digging through rubble with their hands, trying to find anything that could be salvaged.

One man found a broken kitchen chair that he carried away with him. It was his only possession.

Because I live in hurricane-prone Southwest Florida, I sweat through every bit of hurricane season.

I walk through my house looking at things I love and think how I could never afford to replace it if my house was destroyed.

I keep thinking about those Haitians that lost every single possession.

Months after the earthquake, mudslides and ceaseless torrential rain, they still have nothing.

No home, no possessions to call their own.

Worse yet, thousands still are without food or water.

One picture of a little child showed him eating dirt.

That photo haunts me when I think of that kind of unrelenting hunger.

Often when I reach for a glass of water, I think of the people in Haiti still without water.

A friend who works for a company with a factory in the Dominican Republic said his company was willing to take donated tarps, supplies, nonperishable food and water to a distribution center in Haiti.

When he asked for donations, people here filled the trucks.

That worked for a while - until the company’s distribution truck and everything in it was confiscated by one of the many gangs that patrol the road.

Getting donated goods to the people is a major problem for humanitarian groups.

Food for the Poor claims they have enough “feet on the ground” in Haiti to get food and supplies to those in need.

I send them what I can because I can’t stop thinking about starving children trying to eat dirt.

In our church more than 200 volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul, an organization devoted to helping the local needy.

Each week we hear more heartbreaking stories about families mired in poverty.

The only bright spot is there are so many people wanting to help.

Helping the poor is a major priority for many churches and outreach programs.

Poverty hurts. All poverty.

We have much to do to cut down on genuine poverty.

I am thankful for all the programs and all the volunteers that come together to help feed the poor.

I just wish there were a way to do it more successfully all over the world.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at newsgirl@comcast.net.