Jen’s Story

A former client gives back

A cool 5’ in height, Jen has kept her cool in her first 54 years, when times are good and also when times are tough. “I feel like I’m kind of a fighter,” she says, referencing her stature, her gender and her faith.

Originally from Philadelphia, Jen for decades made ends meet – even if only barely – through art. Video montages, fiber arts, dance, performance art, iron sculpture, even flora. “Living Room,” her undergraduate school thesis, consisted of found furniture like sofas and tables that she planted with herbs and annuals and photographed at various stages of growth.

Fast forward to 2016. A transplant from the Bay Area to Portland and now with a husband and a young child who is neurodiverse, Jen dubs this time “my family’s frog in a pot period” that included the loss of health insurance.

“We basically crossed the mountains into Oregon with three suitcases in our beat-up Prius and lived in a friend’s basement while homeschooling our daughter,” Jen said of their hardscrabble start here.

The family secured Medicaid, but took eight months to find consistent employment; money set aside for food began to dwindle.

“We started to go to food banks after the 15th of the month,” she said. “I pared back all that I could,” said Jen about any possible expense.

Seeking low-cost therapy to help her get through this time, Jen came to JFCS. She immediately began receiving one-on-one mental-health care, and her clinician suggested she also seek CSS support.

This lifeline helped her, her husband and their daughter slowly leave behind subsistence living and return to the middle class, from whence she came,
Jen explains.

So grateful was she for JFCS’ help, she began purchasing a few grocery gift cards. Recently, she brought them to JFCS, for those in need – and desiring to make their own food selections – as she once had been.

“There’s a certain amount of humiliation in having to accept a ready-made bag of food,” Jen said. By contrast, gift cards provide respect and dignity. Added Jen, “I received such honor and kavod (respect, or self-respect) from the gift cards I received when most in need. I wanted to give that back.”