Editors note: Linda Clark directs a local food pantry with a passion for needy families developed from her own experiences with poverty and hunger. Heres part two of her story. Part one appeared in the Jan. 24-30, 2007, issue of The Rock River Times.
After seven years of marriage, Linda left her abusive husband, working two jobs as a single mom. Life improved, especially after she met and married Ken Clark. She welcomed the change to normal family life, which she enjoyed for two decades.
Then, one day, Linda saw a homeless person ferreting through a pizza stores garbage. Her heart was touched. She began storing food in a spare closet at her church.
That was OK for the first few months, she said. We never advertised. It just got out. Word-of-mouth; it just skyrocketed.
They expanded to a classroom, and soon she was running a food pantry with 2,200 square feet.
We filled it and with people, too, she said. In a few years, we were serving more than 400 families.
Demands for the pantry increased, using more time and money. Struggles emerged, eventually forcing the closure of the pantry.
Meanwhile, health issues drained the family budget, and, even though both Linda and Ken had their hearts set on starting a new pantry, there seemed no way to fund it or to obtain a property.
We were ready to quit, Linda said. Sometimes I closed my office door and just cried. I just couldnt do another thing.
But she was sure God wasnt finished with them yet.
You love this pantry as much as I do, she told her husband. But there was no open door for the hungry families.
I loved these people; I was feeding these people, she said. I had a dream…I couldnt give this up. I thought I would get a job, and wed get back on our feet again, get on with life. Then, I got a phone call. I had met this lady once. She said God gave her a message [for me] that shed been putting this off for a month or six weeks, and that God wouldnt leave her alone. She said she thought she might be making this up in her mind, but she was supposed to tell Linda, God said to feed His people.
Linda was stunned. After weeks of tears, fears, this was a bolt of lightning.
I wasnt listening to God, so He sent somebody else to tell me, she said. We said OK. We were destroyed for two years. We never stopped crying. We couldnt find someone to give us a building, so we sold our motor homewhich we wanted to use later in life to travel. It took everything we had to buy [the pantry]. It was a shack, but it was what we could afford. We bought this place in Capron, and sold it to the pantry for a small payment. We have a huge lot, and we can build right there. My children may never see the end of thisabout this money. But after this call, we decided whatever it took, we were going to do this.
They also downsized their lifestyle and sold their home.
The bad times didnt turn you against each other? I asked.
It drew us closer together, she said. When someone comes in and their story is so heartbreaking, I think back to where my children were…when my car wouldnt start, and I would go up and down the street looking for a light along the streetsomebody up at 4:30 a.m. Id ask if they were going towards Belvidere. I remember when the kids didnt have anything to eat. What kind of mother would allow her children not to have anything to eat? All of the things that I went through, God was preparing me for this. This was my vision…my purpose for being here. People come by and say, Im proud. I never had to do this before. But when they leave, I have made a difference. Everything that has happened in my life until now had a reason.
In February 2005, the new pantry began serving families again, and many agencies in Rockford, Belvidere and Boone County.
When I leave at the end of the day, I know Im blessed beyond anything, she said. Some mornings, going to work, theres so much joy in my heart, I think its going to burst. Im leaving the house at 5…pitch dark…loving that time…alone with God.
Her family thinks shes obsessed with feeding the hungry.
I guess I am, she confirmed.
She needs another director, more volunteers, a forklift.
You seem content in spite of all youve been through, I said.
There are no regrets, Linda said. Im extremely, extremely happy.
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
From the Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2007, issue