Ginny was standing on the median shivering violently. She tried to pull her thin jacket closer around her. She was worried how her three year old daughter Haley was faring in the car. Was she keeping warm? How could it be this cold at the end of April? Why didn't someone stop and give her a little money? All she wanted was enough for some food from the McDonalds down the street and maybe enough for breakfast in the morning. The druggie in Seattle had told her this median outside the complex around Lowe's was supposed to be a good place to stand with her sign. If something didn't happen soon, she was going to have to go back to the car to check on Haley and try to get warm. Her hands and feet felt numb from the cold. She'd never been this cold back in Kansas or even when she was in Seattle. Maybe coming to Kalispell, Montana had been a bad idea.
The light changed and cars started lining up. Someone rolled down their window and held out some money. Ginny gratefully accepted it and put it in her pocket without counting. She told the man and the woman in the car 'thank you'. Two cars behind rolled their windows down and handed her some money. The light changed to green for them and they were gone. Ginny couldn't stand it any longer. She hurried to her car and unlocked the door. Haley was in the back seat playing with some of the toys from the fast food kid's meals. Ginny got the door open and jumped in the driver's seat. She quickly closed the door and the car felt so much warmer than it had outside but she was still shivering. She grabbed one of the blankets from the back seat and wrapped up in it. Then she pulled the cash out of her pocket to count. She had a five dollar bill and seven ones. If she was really careful what she ordered, she would have enough for supper for Haley and even breakfast in the morning. Maybe, after she warmed up, she could stand out there again and get some money for gas. She had less than a half tank of gas and she knew her car wouldn't go far on that.
Ginny looked in the mirror and saw the dark circles under her eyes. She checked her hair out of habit to make sure that the blonde wasn't showing. She had dyed her hair brown to help change her appearance after the problem in Seattle. Was it only three months ago? It seemed like a life time had gone by. Could she be safe here in Kalispell for awhile? Maybe she could find a job and get some place to stay instead of sleeping in the car like they had been doing. It was tough going into the restrooms in the business trying to clean up and especially trying to keep Haley clean. It seemed like she was a magnet for dirt. It just jumped on her. Ginny was feeling the weight of the world on her 19 year old shoulders and she felt like crying but she couldn't, because Haley would ask what was wrong. She just couldn't tell her. Some of it she wouldn't understand and some of it Ginny didn't want her to know. She was glad that she had been asleep in Seattle. Tim had been so stupid to get involved and he had paid for it. She didn't regret that he was gone but she missed him telling her what to do. She just wasn't ready to make all these decisions by herself.
Ginny was warming up some. She didn't think she would ever be completely warm again. She thought back to the summer days in Douglas, Kansas. She could go to the swimming pool and lay in the sunshine. When she got too warm, she could jump in the pool to cool off. Her big brother Gerald would be there and sometimes he would splash water on her just to hear her squeal. Ginny snapped out of her reverie and back to the cold world of Kalispell, Montana. It was dangerous to think about her past. If she dwelt on it very long, she would be crying and then she wouldn't be any good to anyone. She was the adult now and she had to get money for gas.
Ginny pulled the blanket from around her and turned to Haley, "Honey, are you warm enough?"
"I'm fine, Mommy. When are we going to go? I need to potty."
"Let's go into that store there. Climb over the seat."
Ginny helped her climb over and then they got out of the car. Ginny took her hand and they walked across the parking lot to Lowes. They went in the exit door and hurried to the bathroom. She was glad that Haley was good about telling her that she needed to go. She didn't think she could handle having to change diapers, now, on top of everything else. Haley finished and they went back to the car.
Ginny put her in the backseat again and said, "Wait here, honey. I'll be right over there."
"I'm getting us some money for gas. After that we can go to McDonalds. Would you like that?"
"Yeah. I like McDonalds. Can I get another toy?"
"I'm sure we will. Now you just sit here and don't open the door for anyone. I'll be right back."
Ginny took her sign and walked back to the median. She hadn't been there very long when someone gave her $3. She gratefully stuck it in her pocket. Another vehicle pulled up and she didn't like the looks of the occupants. There were two dirty looking young men in the pickup. They both had greasy-looking, stringy hair and the driver had terrible acne. The driver had yellow crooked teeth and she caught a whiff of the air in the pickup. She didn't like the smell or the occupants of the pickup. She moved as far to the other side of the median as she could.
The driver leaned out of his window and said, "Hey, sweetheart, come over here and we'll give you something."
His friend laughed and Ginny felt a shiver of fear go down her spine. She didn't say anything and didn't get any closer. The light changed but the pickup didn't move. Ginny was looking for a quick way to get to her car.
The driver tried again, "Ah, come on over girl. We won't hurt you and we have just what you need." He gave a smirk that caused Ginny's stomach to tighten and his passenger really laughed again. Suddenly, some cars came up behind them and started honking. The pickup moved off across the road. Ginny tried to keep an eye out for where it was going.
She lost sight of the pickup and shortly another car pulled up with its window down. They handed her $2. She was just putting it in her pocket when the police car pulled up and turned on its lights. Ginny's heart dropped clear to her shoes. Did they know about Seattle? What was that policeman going to do?
The policeman was an older man and must have been about her father's age. He opened the door of his car and stepped out. He approached Ginny and asked, "Ma'am, do you know that you're not supposed to be here begging for money? It causes traffic jams and besides it's dangerous for you. We had a report of a pickup that was stopped here. The woman that called said that you looked like you had been threatened."
"I was just trying to get a little gas money and enough for something to eat. I just got into town and I'm out of money until I can find a job."
"Where did you come from?"
"I came from Oregon. Some friends told me a place that I might find work here. There's nothing where I just came from."
"Well, I'm going to have to ask you to move along. Here, take my card to this address. Helen, at the Ray of Hope, will give you a meal and may be able to help you with gas." He wrote an address on the back of the card and then he reached in his pocket. He pulled out his billfold and pulled out a bill. He folded it and handed the card and the bill to her. He gave her directions to find the address he had written down. Ginny thanked him and quickly walked back to her car. She unlocked the door and got in. She looked at the address and looked up. The policeman was still sitting there so she started her car. She reached in the back to get Haley in the car seat and get her buckled in, and then she buckled her seat belt. She didn't want to give the policeman any excuse to pull her over. He might see Haley and then child services might get involved and take her away. Ginny couldn't stand the thought of that. She eased her car out of the parking spot and pulled out to the street. She drove by the policeman and turned in the direction he had indicated. She hadn't really planned to go to the Ray of Hope but he pulled in right behind her. Now she had no choice. She followed his directions and soon came to the big white house on the corner. She turned and pulled her car to the curb. The policeman drove by and waved at her. Ginny shut the car off and sat there shaking.
She knew the policeman couldn't check license plates because she didn't have one. She had a temporary sticker in the window. She had ditched her other good car after the problem in Seattle and had bought this piece of junk. It wasn't much to look at; but at least, it had got them this far. It needed work but it was all she had.
Ginny took a deep breath and looked around. She saw several vehicles parked behind the house and there were three more on the street in front of her. She saw two men and a woman on the back porch. The policeman waved at them and they all waved back. Ginny didn't know whether to go to the front door or to the people in the back. She was almost afraid not to go in. If the policeman called back to check with this Helen and she hadn't shown up, would he start looking for her? She didn't have enough money to go anywhere. Haley made her mind up for her.
"Mommy, I have to go potty."
Ginny undid her seat belt and reached in the back to do the same for Haley. She opened the door and they slowly walked toward the people at the rear of the house. Haley was holding her hand and looking all around. Ginny was tightly clutching the policeman's card in the other hand. She walked up to the group and bashfully said, "Hi, that policeman that just drove by gave me his card and told me to come here to see Helen. Is she here?"
The woman said, "Come on in. I'll take you to her."
"Mommy, can I potty here? I have to go really bad."
The woman chuckled and said, "Sure, Honey. We'll take you to the bathroom first." She led them in and down a hall. She pointed out the bathroom and Ginny took Haley in. She soon finished and Ginny opened the door. The woman took them back down the hall and to a small office. There was a small desk crowded with stacks of paper and a computer on one side. Behind the desk sat an older woman with gray hair. Ginny guessed that she must be in her sixties but she didn't know for sure. She wasn't very good at judging peoples' ages. The woman looked like someone's grandma and her blue eyes were twinkling with friendliness.
The woman said, "This is Helen. I didn't get your name."
"I'm Ginny Morgan and this is my daughter Haley."
"Well if you aren't a cutie. How old are you sweetie?" Helen asked.
Haley held up three fingers and clung to her mother's leg. She kind of pushed behind her and peeked around. She stuck a finger in her mouth and Ginny pulled it out.
Ginny held out the policeman's card and said, "This policeman gave me this card and told me to come find Helen. He said you might be able to help me."
"Sit down here. Make yourself comfortable. What kind of help do you need? You might want this back too."
Helen handed Ginny a twenty dollar bill that had been with the card. Her eyes grew wide in surprise. She hadn't even looked at the bill. She was surprised because most police she had run into in the last three years would not have done anything like that. Maybe her luck was changing.
Ginny took a deep breath. How much should she tell and should she tell the truth. She had told a half truth to the policeman when she said she was from Oregon. She had been there but just to get away from Seattle. She said in a rush, "I was holding a sign up at the Lowes store and the policeman said I couldn't do that. He said you might be able to help me with a meal and some gas for my car. I just drove in and Haley is hungry. I can pay you back after I get a job."
"How long has it been since you ate?"
"Oh, I don't know. Haley is the one that needs the food."
"Well, I'm sure we can find another place for two more. Supper will be at 5:30. Ruth, will you tell whoever is cooking today that we'll be having guests? Ginny, while we're waiting, why don't you fill out this form that we require?"
The woman who had shown her in nodded and moved down the hall way. Ginny could already smell something that was making her stomach growl. The truth was that she hadn't eaten anything except a candy bar and a pop for two days. She had saved every penny to get food for Haley. Helen handed her a form on a clipboard. There was a pen stuck in the clip of the clipboard. She struggle with some of the answers because they might get too close to the truth. The questions about the drug use were easy to answer. She hated them and wouldn't have anything to do with them. Tim had tried smoking pot once and she threatened to leave him. He didn't use it around her anymore. He drank but there wasn't anything she could do about that. Tim had got her so drunk one night that she passed out. She woke up the next morning with Haley crying in her bed. Ginny had rushed over to see bruises on her arm. She had never touched any alcohol after that. At last, she had the form filled out. She handed everything back to Helen.
"Now, honey, why don't you tell me a little about yourself and what brought you to Kalispell?" Helen said as she started looking over the form.
Ginny decided to stick to the half-truth and said, "I just got here from Oregon. I was staying with some friends there and couldn't find work. One of my friends had a friend in Montana and they said there was some sort of telephone call center here and they were always looking for people. She said I had the perfect voice to work on the phones. I ruined a tire and had to buy another one. That took all my extra money."
Ginny hated to lie but she couldn't tell Helen that she was running from the problem in Seattle. Helen would probably just call the policeman and have her take to jail. Child services would come and she would never see Haley again. She didn't ruin a tire. She just didn't have much money after she had bought the old car. It took everything for gas and a little food at the fast food places.
Helen nodded and said, "Yes, they do hire sometimes. I don't know if they are right now. Have you had any experience in phone work?"
"No, but I'm a fast learner. Can you tell me where I could put in an application?"
"I'm sure you are. Is that all the coat you've got? It looks awfully light for this kind of weather. Your form says you lost a lot of your clothes when you left your last boy friend."
"It's all I have right now. Oregon wasn't this cold when I left."
"Well, come on over to the thrift store. We need to see if we can find something a little better. How is Haley's coat?"
"It's pretty thin but she stays in the car when I have to be outside. I try not to keep her outside very long."
"I'll bet we can find some things for both of you."
Helen led the way out of the house and then across the street. They went to a Quonset hut building that had a big sign over the door. The sign read: A Ray of Hope Thrift Store. A hand up, not a hand out. Ginny thought it sounded corny and wondered what it meant. Right now she would be glad to get a heavier coat and it sure would ease her mind about Haley if she got one too. The inside was packed with racks of used clothing and shelves of household items. They wandered around a bit and Ginny even saw some bicycles in the rear. She wished that they had someplace where Haley could have a tricycle. She remembered playing outside her parents' house on a tricycle. Later, right now they needed coats.
Helen kept up a running conversation. She didn't pry but she was finding out little facts here and there about Ginny and Haley. She took them to a coat rack and had Ginny try on several different ones. While Ginny was doing that, Helen took Haley to another rack and found a coat for her. She put it on and it fit perfectly. Ginny wondered if she would have enough money to pay for it. Perhaps she should wait on her coat until she found out.
Haley came running up and shouted, "Look, Mommy. Isn't this pretty? Helena says it makes me look even prettier. Do I get to keep it?"
Ginny had to smile. It was a light pink and did set Haley's complexion off. Ginny looked for a tag to see how much the coat cost. There wasn't anything there. Suddenly she saw a tag in Helen's hand. She nervously asked, "How much will that cost?"
"Let's find one for you and then we'll see what the total is."
Helen found a nice warm coat and held it out for Ginny to try on. It felt so warm compared to her jacket. Helen went to another rack and picked up two nice tops for Haley. She looked a little more and found some pants to go with them. Ginny was getting nervous because she knew she couldn't afford a bunch of clothes. She would love to have some because they had left most of their clothes in her other car when they abandoned it. All she could carry was one small suitcase and the two back packs. Helen handed Ginny a dress and two tops with pants for her.
Ginny protested, "I can't pay for all this. I just need to find out how much for the two coats."
"Honey, I have several friends that have given money to help pay for these things. There are others that have donated the clothes themselves. They want to help people get back on their feet when life slaps them down. You look like you need a few more clothes to help you get started looking for a job. These are yours free of charge. Now, it's about supper time. Why don't we take these things to your car and then get something to eat."
Ginny could feel the tears welling up. Nobody had been this kind to her since she had left home. Surely she would have to pay a price somewhere. She choked the tears back because she knew if she started, she wouldn't be able to stop for a long time. They carried the clothes and old jackets to her car. She unlocked it and neatly stacked the clothes in the back seat. Helen looked the car over and she could see that they had been sleeping in it. She had suspect as much and made up her mind to get the two a place to spend the night.
Helen led them back into the kitchen and got them situated for supper. Ginny almost dived right in until she saw all the others waiting. She knew they were going to pray before they ate. Ginny hoped nobody thought she could pray. She relaxed when Helen said the prayer. It surprised her when Helen thanked the Lord for bringing her and Haley to them.
Ginny found out it didn't take very much to fill her up. Her stomach must have shrunk in the last week or so. Haley had a good time and really enjoyed the meal. Everyone laughed when she asked if there was a toy with this meal. Ginny started counting her money in her mind and was glad to see that they wouldn't have to spend any on food today. That meant she had $32 for gas and breakfast for Haley. If she got a cup of coffee, she would be good until lunch or maybe even supper.
After supper, Helen took Ginny and Haley back to the office while the others cleared the table and cleaned up. Ginny felt guilty not helping but it was obvious that Helen wanted to talk to her some more. Helen found a small box of toys and Haley sat on the floor contentedly playing with the toys. Helen went behind her desk again and Ginny sat in one of the other chairs.
"Honey, where are you staying tonight?"
"I'll probably do like I have in the past," Ginny tried to hedge.
"And where would that be?"
"Ah…Um…I'll probably go to Wal-Mart and sleep in my car. I keep the doors locked and the key in the ignition so I can start the car and move away quickly if I have to."
"That might get a little chilly around here. The temperature is still dipping into the freezing range at night. We wouldn't want Haley to catch a bad cold or pneumonia, would we?"
Ginny hung her head with shame. She didn't want to risk Haley getting sick but she didn't have any money for a motel or a room of any kind. She answered, "I just don't have the money for a motel or room. With the new coats you gave us and the blankets I have, I'm sure that she will stay warm."
"Remember those friends that I talked about in the thrift store? They make it possible for me to offer a motel room to the two of you for free. You don't have anybody else that would be meeting you there, do you?"
"Oh, no! I don't know anybody here. I just want to get a job and find a place of my own. If I get half a chance, I'm sure I can make it."
"Let me make a couple of calls."
Helen picked up the phone and proceeded to make her calls. It wasn't very long before she was shaking her head yes and writing something down on a pad. She was smiling and her eyes were twinkling when she turned back to Ginny.
"I've got you a room for the next four days. If we can get you a job, maybe we can help to get you set up in an apartment. Here is the motel and just give them this number. Everything will be free. Here is the number for here as well. If you'll come back here, we can get you some breakfast and help you with your job search. Do you have a resume?"
"A resume? I've never even thought about something like that. Oh, Helen thank you so much. You don't know how much I appreciate this."
"Come back tomorrow and we'll get some things going for you. Have you ever done a budget for your money?"
"I've never had any money of my own to budget. What do I need to know about doing that?"
"We have someone here at Ray of Hope that will help you work out one. We've found it helps to have one. Then you won't be tempted to go spend your first pay check on new clothes for yourself or Haley. You'll know for sure what you have to spend."
"I'd like that. I want to be responsible. Thank you, Helen. We'll be back in the morning. Haley, pick up the toys. We are going to go to our own room tonight."
"OK, Mommy. Can I take the toys with me?"
"No, we have to leave them here for other little girls and boys to play with. We'll come back tomorrow and maybe Helen will let you play with them again."
Haley picked up the toys and Ginny told her to tell Helen good-bye. Haley ran up to her and gave her a hug. Ginny followed and gave Helen a hug as well. They both walked hand in hand back to the car. Ginny looked at the address of the motel and remembered seeing it on the way into town. She headed back that way.
Ginny stopped at a grocery store and bought some bubble bath for Haley. She was so excited about having some place to stay besides the car. It had been weeks since she had slept in a bed. She checked into the motel and took the key to the room. The big double bed looked so inviting. She wanted to get a bath started for Haley. She put Haley down on the bed and turned on the TV. She found some cartoons and told Haley she was going to the car for the rest of their things. She had to make two trips to get the new clothes, the suitcase and one of the back packs. The other one she shoved way to the front of the trunk. She shuddered to think what was in there. She didn't want to touch it but she was afraid to throw it away. Tim had pushed it through the window there in Seattle and told her to keep it for insurance.
Haley had a ball in the tub with the bubble bath and some of her fast food toys. Ginny finally had to get her out and dried off. She put her in her pajamas and got her into bed. She was asleep in just a few minutes. Ginny thought about going to bed but decided that tub looked too inviting. She drew a bath for her and used Haley's bubble bath. She sat down in the tub and sighed. It had been too long since she soaked in a tub and relaxed. She stayed in the tub until the water started to cool off and then she got ready for bed. She didn't even look to see what time it was. She crawled in next to Haley and as soon as she warmed up, she was asleep.
The next morning, a sound outside brought her wide awake. She stared around the room trying to remember where she was at. Then she remembered standing on the median yesterday and going to the Ray of Hope. Oh, no! The Ray of Hope. She was supposed to be there before 7:30 for breakfast. Ginny quickly looked for the clock and saw that it was 10:30 already.
Ginny jumped out of bed and rushed to the bathroom to get ready. When she was done, she came back to the bed and gently shook Haley. She said, "Come on sleepy head. We have to get ready to go back to the Ray of Hope. I'm late already."
"I'm hungry, Mommy. Will we get something to eat there? Can I play with Helen's toys again?"
"I'm sure we'll get something to eat. We'll see about the toys. Right now we have to wash the sleepers out of your eyes and get your hair combed. Come on."
Ginny tried to hurry Haley as much as she could but it was like trying to herd cats. She finally got her washed, combed and dressed. She quickly bundled her in the new coat and they were off to the car. Ginny thought it took forever to get Haley fastened in the car seat but she couldn't just drive off with it undone. At last they were all belted in and driving back to Helen's. She watched her speed because she didn't want to get caught speeding. She didn't have money for one thing but she didn't want to answer questions either.
It was 11:30 when Ginny pulled up to the Ray of Hope. She didn't see anyone outside today. She got Haley out of the back seat and went to the back door. She timidly knocked. Ruth came to the door and smiled at her.
"Come on in. Are you here for lunch or do you need to see Helen again?"
"Both I think. Helen said she was going to help me with a budget and a resume. I was supposed to be here this morning but I overslept. I'm so ashamed."
"Oh, don't worry about it. You know where Helens at, don't you? Go on in to her office. I'm helping with lunch."
Of course, as soon as they walked in, Haley had to go potty. Ginny took her to the bathroom and hesitantly walked to Helen's office. She timidly knocked at the open door.
"Come on in. You don't have to knock around here," Helen said pleasantly.
"Oh, Helen I'm so sorry. I overslept and I wasn't here when I said I would be…"
"Honey, it looks like you needed to oversleep. You look much better than you did yesterday. Why look at you Haley. You're so pretty in that new coat. Are you hungry? Lunch will be ready pretty quick."
Haley grinned shyly and said, "I'm hungry. Are we going to McDonald's? Can I play with the toys again?"
"We're going to eat right here and then maybe we can find some toys for you to play with while your mom does her resume."
Ruth called them for lunch and they went to the kitchen. Ginny felt much better today and the food tasted so good. They finished lunch and Helen found toys for Haley. She took Ginny back into the office and started asking her some question. They worked on the resume for a couple of hours before taking a break. Ginny didn't realize how much work it could be. She was really glad that Helen was helping her. After the short break, they finished the resume and Helen printed it out. She gave her five copies and told her that if she needed more, she would have the resume on the computer.
Helen introduced her to BJ who was going to help her start a budget. Helen had some calls to make. She called a couple who had helped before. She explained that she had a single mother who needed a job. They didn't have anything but they told her about two other people they had heard talking about hiring someone. She called both of the people and the second one, Ed and Holly Scott, said they were looking for someone to start part-time and if things picked up a little more in the summer, they would hire the person full time. Helen set up a time in the morning for Ginny to go for an interview. Next she called Mrs. Lindgren, a friend who had been babysitting her grandkids until her son moved taking her grandkids with him. Helen had talked to her on Sunday and poor Mrs. Lindgren was really lonesome. She didn't need the money from babysitting but she sure felt how big a place her house was now. Helen told her about the single mom who had just moved into town with a three year old daughter. She explained the mom was looking for work and would need a babysitter. Mrs. Lindgren said she would be glad to talk to her. Helen was satisfied with her calls and started working on some paperwork. Paperwork like death and taxes never seemed to end.
Later in the afternoon, Ginny finished her first session with BJ. He told her that she had made good progress. Ginny smiled at his simple praise. She hadn't heard any praise for three years now since she had gotten pregnant with Holey. She went back to the office to see if Helen had anything else she needed to do.
"Hi, honey, come on in. I have an address for you to go to tomorrow morning. Ed and Holly Scott run a dry cleaner business and need some part-time help right now. I know you want to check out the call center but you can get an application for there tomorrow too. The Scotts would give you some job experience and if the call center is more hours or better wages, you could take that later. I also have a lady for you to talk to about day care for Haley. Wherever you get a job, you will need someone to take care of her. Mrs. Lindgren said she wouldn't charge much because she just needs some company right now. She had been babysitting her grandkids but her son moved and she doesn't have anybody now. Ginny couldn't believe that things were moving so fast. Her second day in town and she was set up with a job interview and a babysitter. She thanked and thanked Helen for helping her.