Milagros (Mee-LAH-gros) is a Bread For All neighbor who was invited to the food pantry by a friend at the apartment complex where they both live, a mile and a half away from the food pantry. Her name, which Spanish language speakers also use as a noun, means “miracles.” She lives on fixed income and calls Bread For All a “lifesaver.”
Milagros was born the fourth of an eventual seven siblings to parents who migrated to New York City from Puerto Rico. Her dad served in the US Merchant Marine during WW II. Like most American kids of Puerto Rican descent in her neighborhood, Milagros was (and is) a double-native speaker, mastering Spanish at home and English at school. Fascinated with the melody of Spanish, she studied as much Spanish as she could at her Bronx high school and grooved to the salsa rhythms of Eddie Palmieri and Héctor Lavoe in her neighborhood.
As a young woman, she married. Milagros was extremely disappointed to discover she was unable to have children. This reality, in part, led to the demise of her marriage. Milagros decided to leave New York.
By the mid-1990s, she made her way to Central Texas – as did some of her siblings and their children. Initially, she worked at Walmart and Mr. Gatti’s. She landed an entry level job with the state of Texas but needed to supplement her income by working at a Dollar General store in the evenings. During this time, she helped out family, as some of her nieces and nephews lived with her. By the turn of the century, she noticed that pain coursed down her legs at night. It was the beginning of sciatica that would eventually make her use a walker to get around. She had to stop working and applied for Section 8 housing, hers becoming one of five million American households that receive housing assistance from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. A few years into using a walker, she was diagnosed with diabetes. In 2013, she began to use a motorized wheelchair.
“I pray for God to take away my pain. The sciatica pain makes it hard for me to sleep at night. But it’s no use for me to be grumpy and grouchy and complain about everything. I know there are other people who have worse problems than I do.
“Sometimes I share what I bring home from the food pantry with my neighbor, who’s taking care of her own adult daughter who had a stroke and is disabled in a wheelchair.”
Milagros not only knows physical pain, but emotional pain as well. She admits to dealing with depression, and she figures it’s due to not being able to work and be a “doer” as she was previously capable. But she does what she can, and that includes getting on a Cap Metro bus one Monday each month to come by the Bread For All Food Pantry. Talkative with other neighbors and volunteers in both of her languages, Milagros carefully motors through the line and chooses her groceries. After making her way to the end of the line by the kitchen, she asks a volunteer to strap her bags behind the headrest of her wheelchair where carrots, onions, canned goods, and her beloved beans and rice will make the return trip with her to the apartment complex.
Milagros grew up Protestant, married a Catholic, but today doesn’t label herself as one or the other. She says she appreciates the voluntary prayer – the blessing upon the table of goods gathered – before food distribution at the food pantry. “Sometimes I cry during the prayer. I’m very grateful for the volunteers at the food pantry. They’re so friendly.”
She explains that she often cries when she prays. “I wish things were better in the world today, but unfortunately, they’re not. I wish people were more understanding of one another . . . ” Her voice trials off. Like so many of us, Milagros perceives a gulf of difference between what is and what could be, not only in her own life but in the life of the world. Even so, true to her name, she hopes for that day when the great gulf is significantly lessened. And we are with her, side by side, working as neighbors for the arrival of the day when this type of miracle becomes the norm.