Jessica Manuel is a successful 26-year-old who works as a District Manager for Mannington Commercial. However, it wasn't that long ago that the only thing on Jessica's mind was finding her next meal. This is her story:
As a 26-year-old business professional I face very typical problems on a day to day basis, ones that many of you may face. I have to deal with traffic, I have to find parking in downtown Toronto, I have to deal with deadlines, restless nights or finding a healthy balance between my personal and professional life. But it wasn't that long ago that any of these trivial issues were not a concern to me as my only burden was finding my next meal.
As a young child my life was marked by instability. My family was broken, my mother was struggling to raise twin girls and the odds of having a strong self-esteem was quickly diminishing. As a result of poor communication in our home, it became a place of uncertainty and hardship; a place where it was easier to accept the hardship and not solve the problems.
This started with the simple things, like understanding homework, then it quickly progressed into insecurities at school and a poor choice of friends. The cycle was leading towards a path of self destruction with limited guidance and emotional support.
Despite all the trials and tribulations, poor nutrition was the leading cause of my mental, emotional and physical health suffering in my first year of high school. Not long after, at the age of fourteen, I found myself in a youth detention centre as I was arrested for stealing food.
I was surrounded by children who were crying to go home to their families while I was crying to stay. I ate three meals a day. I was safe. This was home.
For two years I battled homelessness and my hope was dependant on youth homes and the kindness of strangers.
At 16, it was time to find an apartment. Even though I was determined, the feeling of insecurity and doubt was overwhelming. I knew that I could not do it on my own, so I sought out resources throughout the Niagara Region, starting with Community Care.
It gives me shivers thinking back about how scared, vulnerable and alone I felt walking into the food bank for the first time. Other people were waiting for food, men, young children and mothers. I quickly accepted that my future was nothing to look forward to.
I cried when I had a moment with one of the volunteers at Community Care. "This isn't fair!" I shouted. "I am scared, hungry and alone!"
I was in there for hours it seemed.The staff and volunteers explained what resources were available to me and indicated that I did the right thing, asking for help. She reassured me that I not only had help, but I wouldn't be alone. The simple act of listening and caring allowed me to continue asking for help.
At the age of 16, I was enrolling into my fifth high school. And even though I was able to land a job at the local coffee shop, I was still trapped in poverty.
At 17, I was pregnant. Desperately in need of finding a new apartment, clothing and food, I turned back to Community Care. Not only did the staff provide me with a list of places for rent at Housing Help, but they provided me with clothing, food and furniture.
It finally made sense when I thought of my daughter, Christine. I needed to 'break the chain' of instability so that she could experience a life of love, hope and stability. The same life I desired for myself.
Through a miraculous chain of events, I was able to find a family for Christine, a family that became my own.
Where once it seemed that I was destined to repeat the cycle of poverty and hardship, I was the first from my family to graduate with a post-secondary education. I have found beauty and strength in sharing my story; a story that is both relatable and effective to victims of poverty, not-for-profit agencies, volunteers, donors and leaders.
Without the services provided through Community Care and the lovely volunteers who helped rebuild my pride, this story would be drastically different. The services not only provided me with the basic necessities for survival, but it laid the foundation that enabled me to be grateful and passionate towards helping others.
I am honoured to be a walking testimony of the generosity and volunteerism of others. Outside of my new family, the NFP agencies gave me a second chance; a chance to fulfil my desires when it felt impossible.
The system is not meant to change everyone because unfortunately, we do not control other people's choices.
My goal is to give a new face to poverty and a new voice to increase hope in the hopeless. Through my speaking engagements I wish to mitigate the risk of others falling into poverty while inspiring others towards change and representing a life of gratitude and success.
So is the coffee stain on your shirt, the flat tire, or getting stuck in traffic ruining your day? It better not. Life could be much worse. Take a moment to help others, take a moment to listen; we all have 24 hours in a day to make a difference, so what are you going to do with it?
For every $1 donated the OAFB can provide up to $8 worth of food, or approximately three meals for a child or family in need. Please give today.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: