Episode 13: Where Hurt, Hunger & Hope Collide

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About the episode

“We were around death from the beginning…I was full of dead men’s bones.” Paul Deane, recovering addict.

Paul Deane had hit bottom. He was addicted to heroin, had just lost his wife after she overdosed and was struggling to be a father to their four sons. The Weymouth man says he drove his life into the ground, but therapists at a Quincy non profit helped him put the pieces back together. He remembered hearing a woman talk at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting about a place she said changed her life. It was the New Beginnings Counseling Center at Interfaith Social Services. He booked an appointment with the lead therapist, a woman from Hingham named Claire Hagan. “At that point, I had no self worth,” he said. “She helped me to see my self worth. She helped me to see that I had value. I can’t teach my kids self worth and self esteem if I don’t have it.”

Interfaith’s Executive Director Rick Doane said need during the pandemic is outpacing any time they’ve ever seen in both their mental health counseling center and their food pantry. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

Need Surges in Pandemic

Ally: You’ve heard Paul Dean talk about his struggle and how much the counseling centers meant to him and his family. How have you seen that need change during the pandemic?

Rick Doane: When I talk to our counseling coordinator, she’s the one really on the front lines, she responds, children. She said that she’s seeing more children that are having issues or parents that are struggling with balancing doing the at home learning and working. The other thing we’re seeing is the pandemic has just been an intensifier. Somebody who might have had some depression or some anxiety before, it has all just been intensified by everything that’s going on.

Ally: Interfaith packs a lot into that relatively small building. And one major piece is the food pantry. Tell me about that connection between food insecurity and mental health

Rick Doane: The link between poverty and mental illness is strong. Unfortunately, you know, there’s people who grew up in poverty, people grew up with food insecurity, people who are witnesses to violence. And it’s a perpetuating cycle. And the idea of our mental health counseling center, is not only to provide treatment for people who are suffering, but also to help people break cycles to help people, you know, sort of escape those emotional and psychological barriers that are holding them back. And so we see that connection, we have cross referrals, we have people who will come into the Counseling Center and throughout counseling, we find out what’s going on in their lives. And we’re able to connect them with our food pantry. Likewise, with the food pantry, somebody comes in looking for emergency food, and they’re talking with one of our volunteers, sharing the struggles that they’re going through, and we’re able to link them together. 

Faces of Hunger

Ally: According to Feeding America, one in 11 people in Massachusetts, and that’s one out of every 10 kids, struggles to get enough to eat. And the same organization projects that 42 million people–that’s one in eight including 13 million children may experience food insecurity and 2021. Talk to me about the pace of what’s happened at at the food pantry during the pandemic. I mean, you know, I remember talking to you early on, and it was frenetic.

Rick Doane:  It was but it got worse. You know, honestly, those first couple months of the pandemic, one of our biggest challenges weren’t the crowds of people coming out. We were seeing more people. The biggest challenge was food sourcing at that point, you know, you had the runs on the grocery stores and food wasn’t as reliable. The biggest uptick that we saw was within the end of August, beginning of September. That’s when we saw our numbers. Take a huge jump. You know, December of 2020, we served 50% more people than we did the previous December. Wow. we were always distributing, you know, three 4000 bags of groceries a month. Now we’re distributing upwards of 5000 bags of groceries a month. And so we have seen that need grow. And at the same time, we, you know, we look at it and we say, it’s not just about food. hygiene is not a luxury, it is a right. And so we are distributing diapers we’re distributing pads and tampons. were distributing toilet paper and shampoo and, and children’s books to the children that we serve. 

Ally: So what’s the pace now? 

Rick Doane: Right now the food pantry is up and running, the line of cars is down the street. You have people lined up at the door who walked to access our services. It used to be that this was all behind closed doors, you know, people would come in to get food and they would wait in our waiting room and they’d leave. Now, when the community drives by our building, they have a visual representation of hunger in their community.

Ally: How many families have you served this year so far?

Rick: Oh, my goodness. Over 600-thousand meals. How many families? You know, each month, we are serving about three thousand people.

Ally: Paint me a picture for people who haven’t driven by or haven’t been inside the food pantry paint me a picture of those faces. What does hunger look like as you see it? Right now on the South Shore.

Rick Doane: You know, hunger looks like any group setting, you go into any supermarket, any school. People have this, this idea about homelessness and hunger. And they, for some reason, they link those two things together. And so when they hear hunger, they think of somebody sleeping on a park bench. Now in reality that doesn’t represent homelessness. That’s not what homelessness looks like. And it’s definitely not what hunger looks like. People in our community need help. Of all the clients we serve, thirty percent of our clients are new, every month, every week. These are people who have never had to reach out for help before. People who are struggling, and are humble enough to ask for help. 

Ally:  Tell me what you hear from clients,

Rick Doane: We’ve asked people we say, okay, you know, are you working, you know, what’s your employment status, and it used to be, we kind of have a 5050 5050 split, you know, I’m working part time but I’m struggling to get more hours. Now the people coming in are unemployed, and the unemployment doesn’t go far enough to help them and so they need this kind of a safety net. They need this little bit of help, so that they can pay their electric bill so they can keep their homes heated in the winter, so that they aren’t facing homelessness. You know the number of people that thing that we see, a lot of people are so far behind on their rent. And it’s disheartening because they come in, they’re getting help from the food pantry, but we’ll talk to them and they’re $20,000 behind on their rent. No federal assistance is going to keep them in that housing. When the moratoriums are lifted, when the eviction goes through, that person’s going to become homeless. 

Ally: You said that your counselors are saying the biggest growth point they’ve seen is kids in need. What are you seeing in terms of the stress on a child for being either in a food insecure or financial insecure household?

Children Suffering

Rick Doane: The stresses that are on a family, the financial stresses, they trickle down to the kids, the kids feel that, that emotional, that emotional drain that concern. So a family who was already struggling to make ends meet had that. But at least kids had school and they can go to school, and they can talk to their friends and have that social element. And then you take that away. And there’s no respite from that, those concerns and those worries, it is, you know, you talk about PTSD. PTSD is a feeling of never being able to get past trauma. It’s something that that trauma hasn’t become a memory, it is something that you’re constantly living in that trauma. And that’s what this pandemic is, has been. It’s heartening that things are starting to get back to normal, but it’s gonna take a long time. And these traumatic ramifications are going to be there for a long time. 

Ally:  To help with that kind of trauma, Interfaith knew they needed to do more. A few years ago, they rebranded their annual 5K from a general fundraiser to a fundraiser for the counseling center specifically. It’s now called the Stop the Stigma 5K. Why did you call it that?

Rick Doane: Because I thought there’s got to be something that we can do as an organization to raise awareness, around mental illness to break down stigmas. And that’s when we decided to rebrand our event. This gives us a platform, it gives us an opportunity every year to talk about it on social media, to talk about it in press releases to get our donors and supporters talking about it. To get people who have loved ones with mental illness or people who are in recovery from addictions, we’re able to stand together and say, there is nothing wrong. This is not a character flaw. It is an illness. And it is okay to talk about it. And the one of the best ways that you can heal is by knowing that we support you. 

Ally: Yeah, it’s interesting. You’ve used the term mental illness, repeatedly. And I think for some parents, they hear mental illness, and they think well, that No, no, that’s not that’s not what’s happening with my child, my child’s just, you know, stressed or has anxiety or Oh, geez, that, you know, they’re starting to cut or, you know, binge and purge, or those kinds of things. What do you say to families who have a need, but they just can’t accept the term mental illness at this point?

Rick Doane: You know, if their child broke their arm, they wouldn’t hesitate to take them to an emergency room. If their child is exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, or is struggling emotionally, they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for help for that either. it’s not something that somebody just needs to suck it up and do better, that’s not going to heal a broken arm, and it’s not going to heal anxiety. Um, and so parents who don’t want to admit that they need to humble themselves, they need to humble themselves, they need to love their child enough to say, I love you, let’s get the help for this. Because you see one of the biggest demographics, it’s undiagnosed mental illness in teenagers. And that’s why you see somewhere it’s in their early, late teens and early 20s is when a lot of mental illness starts to really sort of rear its ugly head. for a lot of reasons, you know, there’s big changes in life, people leaving home. But it would be better if there were warning signs to try to, to stave things off, to try to get somebody help early, before something becomes debilitating. 

Walk to Stop the Stigma

Ally:  If you want to join the 5k. It’s virtual so you can pick your own route to walk or run. It’s a great thing to do with family. My kids love feeling a part of something. You sign up and your team gets pledges, but your registration fee alone pays for someone who can’t afford the co-pay for a counseling session or doesn’t have insurance to get the help they need for free. 

So right off the bat when people register, they are helping local residents who are struggling with mental illness. What we hope is that so many people on the south shore are registering that week, they’re out there and walking and running, and they’re seeing other community members wearing that same stop the stigma tee shirt. And that’s the idea at that sense of community that we’re standing together. And that’s the thing we missed the most, you know, being able to be at the start line, and have hundreds of people together and have that visual. We can’t have it this year physically, but we’re looking forward to next year and at least virtually, we can all post our, our finish line selfie. We have a website where people can keep track of times and we’re going to post who had the best times and, you know, trying to make this a fun interactive event, even though people need to do it in their own neighborhoods. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Links mentioned

To make a donation or get more information about Interfaith Social Services:

https://www.interfaithsocialservices.org

The Hingham Anchor

https://www.hinghamanchor.com

Sandcastles Childcare Center is at 313 East Street in Hingham. Please leave diapers on the front step. Interfaith most needs diapers sized 5 and 6.