Eating is Believing - Capital Area Food Bank
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Eating is Believing

By Tracey Madigan July 25, 2013

websterNo mother can predict ending up in a food line, swallowing her pride to be able to feed her children a decent meal. But faith can lift her out of that misery, too.
“It happened in 1991. I don’t mind talking about it. I am proud of my suffering,” says Karlene Webster.
She and her husband were home builders in Northern Virginia – they owned their own company, and for many years, life was bountiful: good health, steady employment, and three happy children.
But during the recession of the early 1990s, people stopped spending money on new homes. And just like that, builders started to go under.
“Our lawyer told us that on average, he saw one person declaring bankruptcy every week, but that during the recession, he was seeing five per day,” Webster recalls.
It didn’t take long before the family of five tapped their savings dry.
“We had no choice. Neither of us was employed. Next thing you know, we were standing in a food line, and getting bags of groceries handed to us from out of the back of a car. People were without money, and without a job.”
The children were 12, 10 and 8. They took it in stride. “We are Irish, so we tried to use humor, and laugh at the fact that all of our meals looked pretty much the same” but there was no hiding the stress, the sadness and the shame.
Is it wrong to be getting help?
“My husband was devastated that he was filing for bankruptcy, because he was always taught to pay his bills. I went to my priest, and I asked him ‘Is it wrong to file bankruptcy?’ He told me there was no shame in it, but we felt shame,” says Webster, 63.
Their pride was hurt, but the couple knew the financial sting would burn for years, too, after filing for bankruptcy. With five mouths to feed, they had no choice.
“We filed for bankruptcy on our wedding anniversary, Aug. 18, 1991.”
What happened then was a miracle, Webster says.
“In October, we finally found a buyer for our cottage – we had been trying to sell it for months – and we were thrilled. But that wasn’t the miracle.”
When the couple got the check after the sale, they went straight to their lawyer who had worked on their bankruptcy a few months’ previous. “I said, ‘We have money. We want to pay off a bunch of our bills now.’”
“Our lawyer told us, ‘I was cleaning my office, and I found some papers under my leather desk mat, Karlene. They were your bankruptcy papers. I never filed them.’” Webster was baffled as to how that could have happened, but more importantly, she was moved by this blessing.
Their credit was still intact, and their recent windfall from the sale of the cottage put them back on their feet.
Giving back to those in need
“I was very aware that God had shown me how to take, and now it was time to give back,” she remembers.
Webster said, “My first job after the recession was in international development work which tapped in on my raising — always seeing everybody as equal.” Then from there Webster went to a local nonprofit, Lorton Community Action Center. Now, more than ever, with her experience standing in food lines, she knew she could share her personal story with those in need.
I knew how humiliating it was to ask for help, and so we helped struggling families with food and clothing in any way we could.”
The mother of three has been working in the field ever since, and can easily relate to those standing in line for food, often in disbelief at their fate.
Webster’s hope and inspiration were earned. And her vow to give back to people just like her has been achieved.
“I often tell my story to those who are in a similar situation – that’s who God sends to me! I tell them, ‘I DO understand. I’ve been in food lines with my kids.”