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December 11, 2007

A picture of hunger

I received an early Christmas present this year, an awakening of sorts about the true meaning of Christmas and love.

My wife and I have been doing what everyone else is — racing around putting up Christmas lights, buying gifts and attending holiday parties. One Friday evening we attended a Toys for Tots party at a neighbor's house. We brought our required toy and entered into the abundance of people, food, drink and conversation. Before the end of the evening, the seven-ton, camouflaged U.S. Marines truck was bursting at the seams with toys. I'm sure all the partygoers felt it was a job well done.

Abigail
Abigail

On Saturday morning I drove to Belvedere, Ill., to photograph Judy and Abigail Garrison for an article on hunger for The Lutheran's February issue. Judy is a single mom who has degenerative disc disease. She had to quit her job and is fighting the battles of getting public aid and Social Security benefits. It's a vicious ongoing cycle of being turned down by one agency (Social Security) and then trying to convince the others that she is, indeed, in need of help. Meanwhile, Judy has to provide for her daughter, Abigail, when her body won't even allow her to do everyday tasks — let alone work.

I arrive at their home and am the stranger invited in to take photographs and talk about what they wish they didn't have to discuss. Before I pull out my camera gear, the three of us get to know one another. Abigail is an amazing 11-year-old. She does the housecleaning, a lot of the cooking, much of the shopping and helps take care of her mom any way she can — out of love for her mother. She has been forced to grow up at a much-too-early age. With all of this, she's still an honor-roll student.

I tell Abigail why I'm taking the pictures. Then her mother explains why she is telling their story and why she is asking for any help she can get: She loves her daughter. Tears start to flow and mother and daughter hold on to each other tightly. We continue to talk as I take photos. Unlike Friday night's party, here — in reality — there isn't an abundance of food or drink or people who will help. What do you do when you run out of toilet paper and can't afford to buy any? Or your daughter cuts her finger, but you can't afford Band-Aids? What do you do when there isn't any food left in the cabinets?

Before our morning was done, I took Abigail to the grocery store to buy enough supplies to last them until their next round of food stamps. The warm "thank you" and hug from this bright-eyed little girl was the best Christmas present I've ever received. It wasn't because of some toy or other artificial object that I might have brought. It was because for at least a few nights this week, Abigail and her mother don't have to worry if there is enough food in their cabinets.

This Christmas remember those who are less fortunate, whether it is Judy and Abigail or someone you know in your neighborhood. It could end up being your best Christmas present.

Merry Christmas.

To help: If you're moved to help Judy and Abigail, please e-mail me. And remember, there are many like the Garrisons in any given community. I urge you to help those in your own community this Christmas, and throughout the year.

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