So God Made a Mother Collection ➔

The holidays always seem to inspire extreme amounts of giving. Social media is flooded with stories of generosity and benevolence, opportunities to donate are everywhere, and every other building you enter is hosting a canned food drive.

As a child who grew up in extreme poverty, this season of giving always looked different to me.

I was the recipient, the angel on the tree, the kid who took the cans home from school instead of bringing them.

I remember every single time my youth group showed up at my door to give us a frozen turkey and a box of canned goods, and no matter how embarrassing it was, I was excited for the food. My single mother and I lived on food stamps all year long, which meant that our menu wasn’t exactly varied or exciting—string cheese was a delicacy.

As soon as my friends left to take a turkey to the next poor family, I dove into that box with a hunger that had little to do with my stomach. I sifted through the goods with excitement—would there be Rice-A-Roni this time? Maybe some macaroni? Dare I even hope for a can of—gasp—Spaghetti-Os?

What I usually found, what was mostly given to us as an act of charity, were expired cans of pie filling, dented cans of vegetable medleys, and cans with no labels. Seriously. No labels.

We tried to make the most of these items, even implementing “Surprise Side Friday” where you open a can with no label and surprise! that’s your meal. Pie filling didn’t do us much good without pie crusts or the expensive baking staples needed to make a pie from scratch, and with my single mom always working there really wasn’t time to make one. Dented cans got used first, in case they were at risk of going bad quicker. But the hardest items to deal with were the expired cans and the fruit cocktails with dust all over the top. These were proof that we weren’t being given to, we were being used as a landfill.

This wasn’t charity, this was a clean-out.

Over the years I’ve heard people say someone should be grateful for what they’re given from canned food drives, that people struggling so much financially shouldn’t be so picky, that at least the green beans were something more than what they had. And there’s some truth to that. But poverty is not an excuse to feed someone food you didn’t want or food that’s expired. Poverty does not mean families are worth less. Giving to the poor does not mean you get to treat them poorly.

Actual food banks are not allowed to distribute expired or label-less cans, and the amount of food they throw out because it was donated long after the “best by” date is staggering. Keep that in mind when you’re clearing out your pantry in preparation for helping the needy this holiday season. If you didn’t eat it in time, nobody will. That “donation” is just taking a detour to the dump.

Instead, when your daughter’s class is having a canned food competition or there’s a box at your bank filling up with nonperishable items for local families in need, invest in items that can really be useful. Vegetable medleys are cheap and easy to stock up on when you’re trying to bring more cans than the next class, but for a family in need something like chili might pack more protein punch. A jar of peanut butter can feed a family for days. Microwavable meals like mac and cheese cups or —gasp—Spaghetti-Os are perfect for children to make for themselves while their parents are at work. Flavored rice, skillet meals, applesauce . . . think beyond a single holiday meal and consider what you would want someone to hand you in a box if you were hungry.

Sure, these items cost a little more than cans of pie filling. Sure, it’s an expensive time of year and it’s easier to participate in the giving if you just grab some stuff from your own pantry. Sure, people in need are hungry . . . but that doesn’t make them dumpsters. If your motivation is to give and help, then donate items that can really be used, not that make a taller stack of cans. The 4-pack of tuna will cost more and look smaller than 10 cans of green beans, but it will be a very welcomed treat, will be much more diverse, and will offer way more protein than salt.

You’re not trying to fill boxes, you’re trying to fill bellies.

The saying goes that beggars can’t be choosers, but poor people aren’t begging for your expired cans; you’re offering them. Don’t give tasteless stuff this holiday season. Don’t give cheap stuff. Don’t give old stuff, damaged stuff, dusty stuff, discarded stuff. Don’t give to win a contest. Give to help. Give to make a difference. Give to feed a family for more than a day, to bring some relief to a single parent, to bring some ease to an elderly person living alone. Give to feed more, not to see more. And don’t give anything that would require anyone to give up their dignity in order to eat it.

 

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.

A Medical Diagnosis Challenges a Marriage

In: Cancer, Living, Marriage
Bald woman holding clippers over husband's head, color photo

It is no secret now that Albert Pujols and his wife have announced their divorce shortly after she had surgery to remove a brain tumor. As a breast cancer survivor, this news hit me in a special way. As I was reading through an article from Today, there was a quote that hit me hard, “But a marriage falling apart is far more common when the wife is the patient, researchers have found. A woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is...

Keep Reading

You Are So Much More than the Doubts in Your Head

In: Living, Motherhood
Little girl looking out window, color photo

Keep pushing. Push through every doubt the enemy instills in your mind.  Push through the depression. Push through the worrisome moments. Push through that anxiety that won’t let you win.  You’ve got to keep going. Keep moving forward.  You are a great mother. You are a great wife. You are a great employee and an even better friend.  RELATED: Struggling With Mental Health Makes You a Bad Mom—And Other Lies I’ve Believed Don’t get stuck in the same spot that depression has led you and those thoughts that say you aren’t good enough or worthy enough.  You are.  God says...

Keep Reading

I Will Live For You

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother and child silhouette

“I would die for my child, ”a well-known, often said sacrificial statement. I didn’t really know how my fierce love for my child would manifest until the first time she was extremely upset, and I didn’t know why.  Readers, I would have cut off a finger to console my baby.  I would die to protect her.  Both are strong, love-filled sentiments. And both, God willing, are unnecessary.  But there’s a daunting task that is absolutely necessary. At times it needs to be a conscious decision. Sometimes it’ll require taking care of yourself so you can better care for your child....

Keep Reading

Don’t Write Off How Far You’ve Come

In: Living
Woman smiling

Tonight when the demons in my head want to take over, I’m reminding myself that I am amazing, and I have accomplished things I dreamt about for years. I graduated from college. I have a B.A. in psychology. Other people had that. Not me. But now I do. I’m getting my Master’s degree in social work. I am a published writer. Yes, my brain and other people are tearing me down and screaming at me that I can’t do anything right. But the evidence? The evidence is that I have survived 16 years of special needs parenting. And that is...

Keep Reading

Dear Girl, Give Jesus Your Mess

In: Faith, Living
Woman holding Bible, color photo

Oh, dear girl, Give Jesus the mess. Your mess. The mess you think is too much or too big or too unbearable. The depths of the mess. The very worst of the mess. Lay it at His feet. He knew you long before the mess existed. Nobody knows your mess like Jesus. I assure you—this will not catch Him by surprise. Even when you do not understand, even when it is most difficult, even when you have your head buried in your hands. Praise Him, for God wastes nothing.  Even when it feels like opposition is coming at you from...

Keep Reading

Friends Can Be a Sanctuary

In: Friendship, Grief
Group of friends hugging

A sanctuary is defined as anywhere people go for peaceful tranquility or introspection. My friends became my sanctuary when my husband, Frank, died. They became my refuge and my safe place. Friendship is one of the most wonderful gifts in this world. It is beautiful, comforting, ever-changing, and, for me, a fixed point.  My friends seemed to know exactly what I needed and when I needed it. Their love and constant support got me through the worst of times and gave me the courage and confidence I needed to move forward.  I could never give an adequate thank you to...

Keep Reading

Childhood Trauma Made Me Crave the Simple Life I’m Living Now

In: Living, Motherhood
Family walking down road

My own childhood was not a happy one.  My earliest memory was of blowing out a birthday candle (I was maybe three) and of my wish being that my parents would get a divorce, that my dad would disappear forever. The happiest days of my childhood were 72 hours spent in a shelter for battered women outside of DC with my mom and two younger brothers because for the first time in my 9-year-old life, I felt free from the many constraints of home life—short-lived as I knew this freedom would be, knowing he would always find a way back...

Keep Reading

I Don’t Dress “Like a Mom” and I’m Not Sorry

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother in tank top and shorts with three children, color photo

I’ve always had a rather unique style.  I’m not afraid to dress loudly and stand out.  I’ll be the only girl wearing heels in a stadium full of flats.  I’ll wear sequins and glitter in my 30s.  I’ll wear vintage, current trends, and things that have possibly never been fashionable. If I feel confident and comfortable in what I’m wearing, that’s really all I care about.  I’ve been complimented on my outfit choices plenty of times.  RELATED: I’ll Always Be Too Much For Some People I’ve also been negatively judged—many times I know about and probably more times when I’m blissfully...

Keep Reading

What If the Woman Who Seems to Have It All Actually Admires You?

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood

I’ve known her for a long time, and as long as I’ve known her, she’s always been beautiful. Beautiful on the inside and even more beautiful on the outside. Her makeup is perfectly done, her hair with not a strand out of place. And her clothes? Chic. She is well put together, always in vogue. While I have recycled the same clothes for the past five years, she is on point with the latest trends. She can even rock a pair of sweatpants. Her pictures on Facebook and Instagram posts confirm this as well. (She also has a successful career,...

Keep Reading

When Mother’s Day Feels Awkward, Find Comfort in Community

In: Grief, Living, Loss, Motherhood

Mother’s Day can be beautiful for some women. It can be hurt filled for others. Or in my case, it can just feel plain old awkward. I felt eight years of awkward Mother’s Days. In my late 20s to mid-30s, I felt like the woman no one knew what to say to or what to do with. I felt a double whammy on Mother’s Day. My mother was home in Heaven. My womb was empty and always would be. My desire to have a child was filled with an intentional choice to go a non-traditional route to motherhood and was...

Keep Reading