By Hillary Buzaid
With the cold weather upon us and the recent school cancellations due to extreme weather, I have been sure to ask clients if they have the proper winter attire when I see them. Fortunately, Taller de Jose has a few different ways that we can help clients get winter coats, so I have wanted to make this available to them. I recently saw a client, Hilda, who seemed very stressed because, as a result of recent school closings throughout Chicago, her children now have to walk further to school. This distances means more exposure to cold and ice in addition to the challenges of adjusting to a new school. On top on that, she has been too nervous to send them to school a few days due to the cold, so they are missing school.
To find a starting point of how I can serve her, I asked Hilda if she knows about Salvation Army where she can obtain vouchers to get free winter coats for her family. She then pulled out five coupons, one for her and each of her children ages 3, 6, 13, and 15. She then showed me a paper that another agency had given her with the coupons, which explained which Salvation Army thrift stores will accept the coupons. I asked her why she had not gone yet, and she said she did not know how to get there. So I was with a client who had the necessary resource, but did not know where to go. She simply needed a compañera’s guidance to access those resources.
Although Hilda was a walk-in, I had the afternoon to take a trip with her down to 51st and Ashland to the Salvation Army store. Hilda seemed somewhat anxious and depressed, so I started asking her questions about what was on her mind. She shared she had not been sleeping at night because her medication ran out and it is too expensive to fill at the moment. She also explained that she rents out a room in an apartment where her and her four kids stay. Hilda mentioned that when she is not comfortable with her living situation, she doesn’t have a place to really relax and feel calm. She has so much on her plate, but I felt that by going to get the jackets, we could remove a major worry off of her list.
These moments on transportation with our clients are the chances we get to connect with them personally, ask questions to find out more about them if they feel comfortable sharing, and these are the moments that I truly cherish as a compañera. I was bringing Hilda where she had to go, but I also wanted her to feel supported and comfortable amidst a time in her life where she is struggling to find that. I asked her if she feels like her brain does not shut off when she wants to go to bed and she nodded at me. I told her when that happens to me, I take a deep breath in, and then when I’m breathing out, I am breathing out the stresses that I have. We took a few deep breaths together, and she nodded at me. It was nice to see a smile appear across her face.
After being on transportation for close to an hour, we got to our destination. Hilda took out the coupons and asked what they said, as they were in English. Each coupon was good for one free jacket and I pointed to which section had what she needed. I had never seen someone’s face light up like the moment Hilda heard me say she could pick out whichever coat she wanted. I sensed a lot of excitement and relief from her as she went through the aisles, carefully going through each coat to make sure she did not miss one. “What do you think about this one for me?” she asked while analyzing a long wool coat perfect for this Chicago winter. “How about this for my son? Or is that too small?” Hilda asked. After over an hour of searching then checking through again, she was ready to check out with winter coats for each family member.
I was happy to be there with Hilda through this because now she knows that her children will be bien calentitos, nice and warm, when they’re walking to school. Had Hilda not shared with me that her family needed jackets, these coupons would have gone unused because she was unsure of where to go. Hilda and I worked together on this on this accompaniment, as she had the coupons and I knew the buses to take. I am very hopeful that with this knowledge and experience, Hilda can help others become aware of the resources that are available in our area. I want our clients to feel empowered and supported, and I hope that Hilda was able to see on this day that she played a major role in this accompaniment by utilizing the resources available to her.
All stories are based on real clients, but names and images have been changes to protect client identities.