This story is based on my conversation with one of our guests at our Senior Lunch Program. James is not his real name which I changed for anonymity. – Srijan
“I lost everything” – James almost choked up as he uttered those words. I was sitting across him at the table as he was working on his lunch. He was responding to my question about his family in the area. After a brief silence, as I fumbled for a word, he gathered himself up and said that he does have some family members in Seattle. That question, however, clearly brought up some painful memories for James and I decided not to pursue that line of questions anymore.
It was another senior lunch Monday at HIP. The Community Center was abuzz with seniors enjoying their lunch. Some were having animated conversations at their tables, while others ate quietly. Volunteers were running around serving food, making sure no one missed out on the dessert, cleaning up, signing people in, and washing dishes behind the scenes. I decided to sit with James, who was sitting at the back of the hall by himself. It was his first time at this Lake City Senior Monday’s lunch. As I started talking to him, he shared his story with me.
Just last year, James had a home, a job, a family, and friends. He wasn’t rich, but had a decent working class life. Then one day, James had a work related accident that severely injured him. He had to be hospitalized and had multiple surgeries. He was at the hospital for five months. I could clearly see the scars from his accident that were still visible. Insurance covered some of his expenses, but he had to pay a lot out of his pocket. James lost his job, his home, and all his savings. In his words, he lost everything. “I now live in the woods”, he said. Even after all that time in the hospital, he is still not back to normal, and he probably never will be. But James says he is doing much better now. He is relieved that he started getting disability benefit recently, which he says, “helps a lot. But it’s not enough to rent a place to live here”. It’s not enough to get by. He was happy to know about this Monday lunch at the Lake City Community Center and plans to come regularly whenever he is able to.
As I sat across from him while he finished his lunch, it struck me how close many of us are to falling into hunger or homelessness. It just takes one accident and there is no safety net to fall back on. I pointed him to the social work resource table where he may find some helpful resources. We may not be able to address all his worries, but I was glad we were there to provide a healthy and dignified lunch for him, a space to connect with others, to unwind, and to take a break from his ongoing struggles. A lunch may not be the worst of James’ worries, but at least it is one thing that he won’t have to worry about on Mondays.