Valentine’s Day is all about love and the heart. Normally, it’s focused on romantic love, but I’d like to extend that love to include compassion for our neighbors — people in need in the United States.
While the recent economic news looks slightly more positive, there are still more than 12 million Americans without work or steady income. They’re forced to make tough choices, such as whether to pay the rent or feed their children. They’re running hard on a treadmill, but never making progress toward lasting improvement.
One of those Americans is a woman I recently met from New York City named Veronica Melendez.
Veronica lives on welfare because she is disabled and cannot work. She relied on those payments to support herself and her three children. Because the apartment she could afford was infested with mice and roaches, her children often were sick. They all have asthma.
Her daughter, Isabel, had extremely high blood lead levels, so she suffered from fatigue and forgetfulness. Veronica missed an appointment for recertification, because she had to choose between staying with her sick daughter or going to the appointment.
The state closed Veronica’s welfare case. She got behind on the rent and eventually was evicted. They tried to move in with Veronica’s mother, Aida, but she lives in a one-room apartment, and the landlord wouldn’t allow them in there.
Now, Veronica and her three kids live in a shelter.
Veronica’s oldest child, Lucecita, 11, struggled to sleep because of all the fighting taking place outside her door at the shelter. She had an important test the next day. “I couldn’t sleep because [the fighting] woke me,” she says. “I was mad tired.” She wound up sleeping at school the following day.
A 2009 report from the National Center on Family Homelessness says that homeless children are twice as likely as other children to repeat a grade. Because of having to move so frequently, they are at an increased risk for falling behind in their studies. They’re more vulnerable to not learning the necessary skills to escape poverty as adults.
Veronica’s children used to attend an after-school tutoring program. However, the rules at the shelter call for families to be inside by 6 p.m. Otherwise, they won’t be allowed in for the night. Veronica relies on public transportation and can’t take the chance that she and the kids will be delayed if they attend tutoring.
The shelter’s food also presents a problem. “The way they taste is like they are overdue,” Veronica says. “The food tastes like it’s spoiled.”
She says that often she and the children won’t eat for fear of getting sick, so they will go to bed hungry. Aida used to make food for them, but they learned that they can’t have food in their room. Now, they must choose to eat food that tastes spoiled, or go without.
Many people in our country face no-win choices like these. Veronica doesn’t know what the future holds for herself or for her children. “I would like it to get better,” she says.
Maybe this Valentine’s Day, we can extend our love and compassion to them by helping to get them off the treadmill and onto a road that leads to hope.
World Vision’s U.S. programs are focused on coming alongside families who are struggling because of disaster or financial hardship. This Valentine’s Day, explore the ways by which you can extend a helping hand to our neighbors in need right here in the United States.