When Harvest Hope Food Bank volunteer Bobbie Stevenson entered OCCO Luxury Spa in the Vista; she was seeking auction items for the upcoming Empty Bowls Gala. She didn’t expect to be greeted by a past recipient of Harvest Hope. Heather Brennan, the new client liaison, immediately offered to help. She knew firsthand how the organization makes a difference in people’s lives. Without the help of Harvest Hope, Heather and her children, Zoe and Max, would have gone hungry.
Heather’s story reads like a fairy tale. She grew up in the historic town of Frederick, Maryland. She married her high school sweetheart. They had been king and queen of the prom. She went on to graduate from Hood College majoring in Shakespeare and then landed a great job in the cosmetology industry with Paul Mitchell, traveling around the country organizing high-end community events. She attended New York Fashion Week. And along the way she had two wonderful children.
And then her storybook life took a sharp downward turn. Her husband of twenty years suffered a profound nervous breakdown, resulting in severe drinking and the loss of his job as a state trooper. At that time Heather took on the full responsibility for her family by working three jobs. She explained, “Working and living like that became a huge burden. This ship was going down!”
Heather knew it was time to take the next steps and start a new life. She and her children moved to Columbia and she accepted a great new job. Her life was back on track. Her children enrolled in Spring Valley High School and she rented a lovely home. However, within a few months the business closed and Heather lost her job.
She was not eligible for South Carolina unemployment, was not receiving child support, and had no source of income. She tried everything to find a job. She even started baking and selling gourmet dog treats at the Soda City Market. And despite a strict budget, six months of savings disappeared into thin air.
After paying rent, utilities, car expenses and supporting the needs of teenagers, there was nothing left for food, so Heather turned to Harvest Hope. In her “past” life, she had volunteered at soup kitchens and food banks and organized food drives.
Reminiscing about her visits to the Emergency Food Pantry in Columbia, Heather shared: “It was important for me to take my children. Our journey had put things into perspective and they needed to understand that humility is important.”
Within a few weeks Heather landed a part-time job at SalonCenteric. There she met Chaz Ellis, OCCO’s marketing manager. He recognized her talents and she was soon hired as a client liaison, Today Heather works six days a week, mornings at SalonCenteric and afternoons at OCCO. She works long days but is energized by the work and her ability to support her family. And she is once again in a position to be a volunteer.
If you were to meet Heather, you would be incredulous. How could this well dressed, articulate and self-assured woman have been a recipient at a food bank? Heather chuckled, “People have an idea of what poverty looks like and I just don’t match. Looks can be deceiving.”
Harvest Hope Food Bank provides food to end daily hunger for individuals, families, seniors and children across 20 counties of South Carolina. Last year the organization distributed more than 28 million pounds of food, enough food to provide 22 million meals, and fed approximately 38,000 people every week. For more information, please visit www.harvesthope.org.
Photos by Kimberly Campbell