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When I walked into the home of a family member, I immediately saw the young couple standing at the end of the living room. I was introduced to the couple, Scott and Kayla, and then I made my way into the kitchen to offer my help getting things ready for the grill. Scott had been hired by my brother and was checking last minute details before leaving to begin his shift. The young mother, Kayla, called for their son, who off playing in another room and then thanked my sister-in-law for her hospitality. She was invited to come back to get something to eat, but all the food for the cookout wouldn’t be ready for a few hours.

After they left, I noticed that Kayla kept walking past the front of the house. She would first just stand on the sidewalk in front of the house. Then she would venture almost to the door before turning to go back down the driveway onto the sidewalk again to continuing walking past the house. This happened so many times within about an hour that I couldn’t help but be curious about her.

“She keeps walking past the house and almost coming to door,” I informed my sister-in-law. “Where does she live?”

“Down the street. She’s a neighbor, but she just showed up at that house not that long ago.”

It was then that I found out about her situation. From looking at her she was painfully thin and although her clothes looked clean, they also looked worn and the fit was extremely big. I discovered that until very recently, she and Scott were homeless. Their young son had stayed with his grandfather (Scott’s father) who was also having a hard time financially. Family discourse and perhaps (this is speculated) a substance abuse issue on Kayla’s part is what left her sleeping in the Walmart parking lot for a long time. Eventually, Scott ended up with her on the streets until venturing back to his father’s house. Getting Kayla, who had left her son when he was a baby, into the house was not an easy task and it was uncertain how long she would be allowed to stay. The couple hadn’t had a roof over their head for very long, but both Scott and his father were grateful for the help my brother had given them financially.

Finally, I saw Kayla make it all the way to the front door. She tentatively knocked on the door and she and her son were invited back inside the house. They had been to the park and had “crashed” a birthday party. The son was offered a snack and cake after making it known to the hostess how hungry he was. Unfortunately, the snack wasn’t enough and Kayla decided to come back to my sister-in-law’s home. She asked if it was ok to wait there while the food cooked, rather than come back when the food was ready.

Kayla sat at the kitchen table with me and after speaking with her, I understood why it was speculated that she had (or still has) a substance abuse problem. However, I began to wonder if she was actually mentally challenged and if so, were drugs the cause of it. Without asking her to divulge information about herself to appease my curiosity, we spoke in general and then when food was ready she opted to pack up multiple plates to take home to the rest of the family. The smile on her face when I added about a dozen cupcakes and giant muffins on top of her already overflowing bag of goodies was priceless. She looked as if she couldn’t believe her good fortune. I looked at my sister-in-law and realized just how fortunate Kayla was to have her as a neighbor. To have someone willing to help, without asking, but just because there is a need is the exact definition of what it means to be a good neighbor.

Sometimes we don’t know that the kids we see at school alongside our own kids are food insecure. Outside of the school breakfast/lunch program, some kids don’t even know where their next meal is coming from. And unfortunately, evenings, weekends and summer may prove to be a very challenging time for kids and their families when it comes to keeping eating regularly. Kayla didn’t ask for food, she was offered. She seemed embarrassed when her son talked about being hungry. She also seemed desperate to get the food and then very thankful when she got it….and I may not have really noticed if my sister-in-law and good neighbor had not brought it to my attention by simply offering help. I promised myself to be more vigilant. You never know how big a difference you can make by doing something as simple of offering a child a piece of cake or a snack while in the park or a sending a full meal home to a family in need.

Most of us know what it means to be nice, but far fewer of us know what it means to be kind…or that there’s a difference.