Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Desiree VanderPoel and her four kids

A blessing brings a mother to her knees

Added on Thursday, January 30, 2014

I collapsed. All my kids were asking, ‘Mom, are you OK?’ I said, ‘My goodness, am I ever!’ For the first time, I felt like we were going to be OK.

On a kitchen floor, on her knees, surrounded by her kids, a mother finds hope. It was a life-changing moment that happened when a Salvation Army supporter partnered with us to change a neighbor’s life.

It all started last month, when an anonymous woman walked into The Salvation Army of Cloquet, Minn., with a substantial amount of money to donate. She wouldn’t say how much. All she would say is that she’d give every penny if The Salvation Army could prove how much good the money would accomplish.

“She wanted to see the money in action,” said Jackie Meyer, social services caseworker at the Cloquet Salvation Army. “I told her I had the perfect program.”

That program is Pathway of Hope, a new Salvation Army initiative that provides long-term, one-on-one support for struggling families that want to start thriving. Each family meets with a Salvation Army social worker once a week to formulate a game plan, set goals and track their progress.

Des-Cloquet-B-200x300Through Pathway of Hope, Meyer regularly meets with a 33-year-old woman named Desiree VanderPoel (pictured with her family above, and at right with Meyer). They connected after VanderPoel’s life fell apart due to unexpected financial issues.

“Desiree was in a really dark place, wondering how she’d feed her four kids and keep a roof over their heads,” Meyer said.

Today VanderPoel is almost whole again, thanks to Pathway of Hope and an astounding gift from a complete stranger who trusted The Salvation Army to turn her donations into real change for a family in crisis.

Dark days

VanderPoel came to The Salvation Army last fall. Six months earlier, her ex-husband unexpectedly quit paying child support. Without that money, she couldn’t make ends meet through her full-time job as a medical secretary.

“All of a sudden I had $1,700 coming in, but $1,900 going out,” she said. “I had to start robbing Peter to pay Paul. You can only do that for so long before it catches up with you.”

And catch up it did. Every month she got further and further behind on paying her mortgage, car payment and utility bills. Eventually her car was repossessed.

She reached out to service agencies for assistance, but few would help her because her income was too high.

“Some people said I’d be better off quitting my job,” VanderPoel said. “I was disgusted that people would suggest I quit my job to live off welfare. I got so depressed, with no idea what I was going to do or how I would protect my children.”

New path

In September, VanderPoel stopped by the Cloquet Salvation Army to receive free backpacks and school supplies for her children. That’s when she met Meyer.

“I was also able to give Desiree food and clothing,” said Meyer, adding that The Salvation Army serves according to need, not income.

Des-Cloquet-C-200x300After learning more about VanderPoel’s situation, Meyer told her about Pathway of Hope. Although the program couldn’t magically wipe away VanderPoel’s financial woes, it would at least provide emotional support at a time she so desperately needed it. Not only that, she’d have Meyer in her corner as an advocate.

VanderPoel (pictured in a budgeting class) joined Pathway of Hope and set one simple goal: make ends meet. Meyer has been with her every step of the way, offering guidance and being her biggest cheerleader.

“They should make a statue of Jackie somewhere,” VanderPoel said. “You couldn’t ask for a better role model. She’s taught me how to look at all the good things I have. I can call her anytime and she makes time for me. If she doesn’t have an answer, she will the next time we meet.

“She’s my angel.”

Little did VanderPoel know, another angel was about to enter her life. 

Unexpected blessing


Remember the anonymous woman? In addition to wanting proof that her donation would make an impact, she wanted it to benefit one deserving person.

Meyer couldn’t help but tell the woman about VanderPoel. At that point, VanderPoel’s stove and oven didn’t work, and she was more than a month behind on paying her mortgage and most of her other bills. She was in the fight of her life, yet maintained a positive attitude, thanks to the support she received through Pathway of Hope.

Several days later, an appliance crew arrived at VanderPoel’s doorstep with a brand-new range and refrigerator (pictured). Inside the fridge was a Christmas card containing cashier’s checks made out to her utility and mortgage companies, plus a $500 gift card to L & M Supply.

“I collapsed,” VanderPoel said. “I was on the floor bawling my eyes out. All my kids were asking, ‘Mom, are you OK?’ I said, ‘My goodness, am I ever!’ For the first time I felt like we were going to be OK, that we would make it through this. All of my prayers were answered in one night.”

Not only did the anonymous woman give about $5,000 worth of gifts, she got all the proof she needed about the impact of her donation.

Read VanderPoel’s thank you letter (edited for length)

To the donors who saved Christmas:

Your generosity this holiday season meant the world to me. I want you to know why.

I’m a full-time working mother to four children, ages 6 to 13. The three oldest are from my first and only marriage. Their father has been largely absent since our separation. After leaving the military in January 2013, the children’s benefits, as well as any child support, abruptly ended – a loss of $1800 a month. My youngest’s father, with whom I am in a serious relationship, was injured on the job and is battling a worker’s comp case. He helps when he can, but this is a huge stress on our relationship.

I kept plugging away, robbing Peter to pay Paul, but I couldn’t make it from month to month. Then came the foreclosure notice. With help from a local church, we were able to save the house, but I let my vehicle be repossessed. Then the miracles began. I was directed to the Cloquet Salvation Army which had a program to help with my kids’ back-to-school expenses, and for me, a program called Pathway of Hope.

And you entered my life with the gift of a new stove and refrigerator. I was overjoyed; so excited, that I put aside the card you enclosed. When I opened it and saw what was inside, I collapsed on the floor, weeping, at the extreme generosity of total strangers.

“Mom, are you okay?” asked my kids.

I was more than okay. My prayers were answered, my faith restored; and Christmas, a real Christmas, bestowed on my family.

I am still in awe, overwhelmed by your kindness and generosity. Thank you so much.

God bless you,

Desiree & Family

“The woman happened to be in my office when Desiree called after receiving her gifts – the woman could hear Desiree crying through the phone,” Meyer said.

About Pathway of Hope

Pathway of Hope is a national initiative that is steadily being implemented at Salvation Army locations across the country. There are currently five Pathway of Hope programs in place in Minnesota, with two more coming in North Dakota.

Meyer works with three families through Pathway of Hope, including VanderPoel. The other two are single mothers.

“We meet every week and do things like create budgets, make doctor appointments, set goals – all kinds of things,” Meyer said. “More often than not I’m a sounding board for them to rant, rave, yell or cry – sometimes they just need to get it all out in front of somebody who cares about them.”

Meyer plans to support each family for about a year. It’s an experience she’s looking forward to.

“These ladies enrich my life so much and are such a blessing,” she said. “All three are wonderful moms who make sure their kids’ needs and well-being come first. I am proud to walk with them on this journey.”

You can be a blessing to a family in need by getting involved with The Salvation Army. We have operation centers and service extension units in every county of Minnesota and North Dakota. To find your nearest location, type in your ZIP code at the top of this page.