Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is likely not a name with which you are familiar. I know I wasn’t before I heard her story. She tells the story of when she was a law student. She didn’t have any money. None for gas and none for food. She was desperate and found herself at the local Salvation Army in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I remember what it felt like to need to go there. I was embarrassed. I had my head down. I was preparing myself, steeling myself for all the probing questions I was about to hear when I got there. And I was ashamed.” I’m sure that a lot of people, maybe all of us, have had similar feelings when we need help. We feel like we should be able to take care of ourselves, without help. We should be the helpers, not the helped. But I believe that everyone needs help, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot, at some point in their lives.
Ms. Babineaux-Fontenot’s fear melted away when the kind woman doing the intake was only interested in how she could help. She provided her with emergency food stamps “and she told me, if you need any more, baby, you know where to come.” Ms. Babineaux-Fontenot never had to go back. “But I will never forget that I had to go that time. I’ll never forget how I was treated when I went. And I will work hard to make certain that every single person who finds themselves – him, her, or themselves – in that type of circumstance, I want them to have the type of experience that I had.”
She didn’t forget that promise that she made to herself. She is now the CEO of Feeding America whose mission is to advance change in America by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all, in partnership with food banks, policymakers, supporters and the communities they serve.
We hear lots of inspirational stories but often the stories involve someone becoming a billionaire after discovering or creating something new and amazing. These people have usually had to deal with some level of adversity on their way to success. For me, Ms. Babineaux-Fontenot’s story stands out because her adversity was very personal, and her current success relates directly to the situation in which she found herself that day at the Salvation Army. Her story inspires me to look for more ways that I can help others beyond what I’m currently doing. Her story is also a great message for my kids that doing meaningful and purposeful work is incredibly satisfying and important for our communities.
Take care and stay safe.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, Demon Copperhead is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. Relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.
Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens’ anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind.