Don’t judge a book by its cover – an unusual lesson from an unusual source

Carolyn BertschLetter to the Editor, Print Sartell - St. Stephen0 Comments

Mady Bertsch, 12, Sartell

Last year I started volunteering in the Salvation Army Food Shelf with my mom and little brother. When my mom signed us up, I didn’t want to volunteer. I didn’t want to work with the stereotypical homeless person. When I thought of the homeless, I thought of people on the streets begging for money and spending it on drugs or alcohol like what I see in the movies. I am writing this because I think some people might have the same thoughts as me. On my first day of volunteering, I met three amazing people – other volunteers named Nancy, Ann and Mary – all adults who have become my friends there. They helped put my fears to rest, but there were other lessons I learned as well.

When I started volunteering at the Salvation Army, my job was to make bags that included peanut butter, rice, mac and cheese, cereal and other snacks, foods that you and I would probably eat in two seconds. But, these bags had to last for a month for a food-shelf client. They have to ration. This year, the Salvation Army switched to a method where bags of food are no longer handed out. Instead the clients come into the food shelf and volunteers help them shop. This change is due to the new mandates. Because of my job changing from assembling bags to actually assisting clients in person, I got to really see where the food goes. I met the people who were getting the food and they are just like us.

There was this guy who was only 36 years old. He had a cane and his wife kept worrying he would fall. I asked and he told me his story. He was a firefighter down south, and he was inside a burning house where the roof was falling. As it caved in, he shielded an 8-year-old child to protect him. The boy came out without a scratch but the man broke virtually every bone in his body. He said there has only been four surgeries ever performed like the one he needs to fix all he now has wrong with him. As a result of medical expenses and not being able to work, he couldn’t pay for housing and all his other bills and also afford to feed his family. With no job and being too crippled to work, it’s hard to pay for normal everyday objects we use so he had to come to the Salvation Army Food Shelf for help. But the worst part, he said, was not the body pain but the pain of not being able to stay busy. He used to work all the time.

There was another man and his wife in their 50s. They had three sons and had been very successful. Both husband and wife had college degrees. They were a normal family living in Blaine, but then their house was taken away when they couldn’t afford the payments and suddenly they were living in a camper in the middle of the woods. Their lifestyle changed drastically. They had never been homeless before and now suddenly they had to protect the little property they had left from the other desperate people who had to live in the woods. Because of these difficult circumstances, they came to the Salvation Army for shelter and food. Then life became even worse before getting better when their son, a student at St. Cloud State University, committed suicide. The Salvation Army helped by providing the proper attire, transportation and grief counseling for the funeral. The Salvation Army also helped them get interviews for jobs. With the Salvation Army’s help, they found employment and housing and were able to move out of the homeless shelter into their own home again.

There was a lady who works at a local grocery store as a cashier. She works all the time and barely gets a day off, but she still can’t make ends meet. Because she couldn’t afford meals to feed herself and her children, she came to the Salvation Army. She was not sad or melancholy; she was a peppy person. When she came in she brightened the room. She was very interesting to talk to. She appreciated the Salvation Army Food Shelf could help her stretch her budget.

I feel really bad I didn’t want to volunteer at first and I had judged a book by its cover. But I had no way of knowing who these people really were. And sometimes it’s scary when you don’t know about something. My experiences have taught me a valuable lesson – they are just like you and me. In addition to this, I also have more appreciation that I have a roof over my head, and I have food to eat, which I might’ve taken for granted before. This is my lesson I learned from this unexpected source.

If you would like to get involved, the Salvation Army really needs volunteers to ring bells. You can sign up online at or just call Laura at 320-252-4552.

Author: Carolyn Bertsch

Bertsch has worked for the Newsleaders since 2015. She and her husband, Matt, and their three children live in Sartell where they also own and operate Four Seasons Window, Carpet and Air Duct Cleaning. Bertsch also stewards the “Reads and Seeds and Other Needs” Little Free Library in Sartell. The “Other Needs” portion of the library functions as a collection site for donations to the Salvation Army where Bertsch serves as a board member. Her other hobbies include volunteering at the food shelf, cooking, baking, and growing a vast array of fruit in her backyard orchard. Bertsch believes that every single person can choose to make the world a better place for someone else and at the end of the day the only question that matters is, “What kind of difference did you make?”

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