Do you know what it’s like to be unable to afford food?
I’m not talking about struggling to stretch your grocery dollars or waiting for oranges to go on sale before you buy them. I’m talking about having no idea how you’re going to pay to feed your family tomorrow.
I know a little something about that myself. I had a couple of lean years when my daughter was young. Having more month than money was a fact of life for us. Back in the day before debit cards were commonplace, I remember crossing my fingers, holding my breath, and saying a prayer as I wrote my check for groceries, hoping the mail would be slow, and that my check wouldn’t bounce. I became pretty good at stretching 20 bucks to feed our little household of two for a week. I even used a food pantry on a couple of occasions and although it stung my pride to accept help, I am grateful that help was there.
I never resorted to stealing food, but I sure thought about it. I’d stand in the middle of the meat department and mentally calculate the difference in price between 97 percent ground beef and the 80 percent ground beef that shrunk to nothing when you fried it. It seems like such a trivial thing, but I wanted that extra-lean meat for my Hamburger Helper in the worst way. I could almost never afford it.
What if I just slipped these two cans of tuna and that package of sliced cheese into the diaper bag? I’d wonder. If I didn’t get caught, I’d have more money for food and I could afford that ground beef I coveted. If I did get caught, I could pretend it was an accident. I could blame it on the fog of motherhood or claim I was so distracted by my kid that I didn’t realize what I was doing.
I never did it. I was never quite brave enough or quite desperate enough. Close, but not quite.
Those lean days have thankfully long passed. I’m in a comfortable place where things like how much ground beef costs don’t really cross my mind, but when I hear about someone stealing basic necessities, I instantly go back to being that broke young mom who put gas into her car five bucks at a time and counted the hours until pay day.
Sheena Davenport of Dothan, Alabama was that broke young mom last year. She and her family were “struggling like no other” and she resorted to stealing food from Walmart. Despite her motives, Davenport was held accountable for her actions — she received fines and probation — but when she started to walk out of the courthouse on May 8, she got an unexpected surprise.
“Wait for me outside,” a female officer told her.
Davenport proceeded outside and the officer told her to follow her in her car. They ended up in the parking lot of a Winn Dixie grocery store.
“I started crying when I realized where we showed up,” Davenport tells Babble. The officer told her to “grab a buggy and let’s go shopping.”
In total, the officer bought $139 worth of groceries for Davenport and her family that day — a day the struggling mom won’t soon forget.
But the officer, whose name is Katrina Lewis Culbreath, did more than just pay a random act of kindness. She also shared some of her own past struggles with Davenport and told her how she’d made it through. Perhaps buying those groceries for someone who needed them is her way of paying it forward and providing encouragement to someone who was struggling.
Officer Culbreath gave a tangible gift that day, but her gifts of hope and compassion will last long after that food is gone. It might seem overly simplistic, but what we need most when we’re feeling hopeless is hope; and that’s precisely what this kind officer offered the mom.
“I hugged her so many times,” shares Davenport. “This world may be jacked up, but there are still people out there who make a difference — and when my time comes, I will pay it forward.”
“Katrina is a wonderful person and an asset to this department,” says Captain William Benny of the Dothan Police Department.
I couldn’t agree more.
Davenport recently shared Officer Katrina Lewis Culbreath’s act of kindness and compassion on the Facebook page Love What Matters; and in doing so, she reminded all of us that there are still good people out there. The actions of this one police officer are also a reminder that we can all seek to do better and to help those around us who are struggling. My own financial hardships may be a memory now, but I think I was so busy climbing up and out that I didn’t stop to think about paying it forward myself.
Thanks for the much-needed reminder, Katrina.