‘It must’ve been God‘: Carla’s story from New York to New Orleans
By: Karyn Lewis
Carla turned to The Salvation Army New Orleans Command in 2020 after being evicted from her Miami apartment. She lost her job due to a periodic reduction in force and was living on a fixed income. In one particular month, Carla was just $1.43 short on her rent. As a result, she was evicted and decided to leave Miami to return to New Orleans, a place she’d lived many years ago.
“That’s how you become homeless in the first place,” Carla said. “You just don’t have enough money for your basic needs. At least there’s a place like The Salvation Army where people can go. At the end of the day, you have a roof over your head, and you have a meal.”
Carla didn’t qualify for Medicaid after losing her job despite having diabetes. She entered The Salvation Army as a low-income senior. Many seniors are left in similar situations don’t know where to turn.
Thankfully, Carla turned to The Salvation Army.
“It must’ve been God because I didn’t choose any other place,” she said. “I immediately turned to The Salvation Army. Looking back, it was the best decision I could’ve made.”
Carla worked as an artist in New York, doing restoration and embellishment for Mark West Gallery for over 20 years. After settling into her new life of living in a shelter, she walked out on faith and began working with a social worker to find employment.
Carla came across a flier on the receptionist’s desk concerning a virtual job fair. She applied to a position with Volunteers of America, where she’d assist with packing lunches for school-aged kids during Covid-19 school shutdowns. She got the job and prepared meals for children until the position ended once schools reopened for the fall semester.
Thankfully, an opening for a new cook at The Salvation Army New Orleans Command opened.
Carla enjoys baking pastries, so she applied for the job and was offered the position and will work with The Salvation Army until she retires next year.
“I worked in the art industry for 22 years and somehow ended up a cook at The Salvation Army,” Carla said with a smile. “I don’t question things, and I don’t believe anything is by coincidence.”
“The Volunteers of America job ended up preparing me for my current position as a cook with The Salvation Army,” said Carla. “Isn’t it funny how things work out?”
Carla feels that she sometimes serves as a therapist to those who enter her kitchen. She ensures that everyone has a relaxing experience during their meals. Residents often linger to tell her about jobs that they’ve found or what’s going on in their lives. She also gets to interact with children who are staying at the shelter during meal times.
“I understand the people come through the line because I’ve lived with them,” Carla said. “Not only am I a kitchen assistant, but I’m also a therapist. My job is to make dinner a pleasant experience for these people. They have to live outside all day in harsh conditions. I try to relay that if you’re still standing at the end of the day, you’re good. You’re stronger than the average person because you’ve learned how to survive under harsher conditions. It’s the truth. The Salvation Army bolsters you if you’re smart enough to see it. Sometimes you have to look outside of yourself.”
“There was one little girl who wanted an extra piece of cake at dinner, but I wasn’t able to give her one. Sometimes there’s enough food for seconds, and sometimes there isn’t. I saw the disappointment on her face and told her that I’d be sure to give her an extra slice the next day. She’d forgotten by dinner the next night, so I reminded her, and her face lit up so bright! It was adorable. I hope that if I do things now to touch these children who are in the shelter, maybe 10-15 years from now, they’ll remember and be kind to others. That’s how life works.”
Carla says the most influential part of her short journey of living at The Salvation Army were her interactions with Majors Ernest and Debbie Hull, who were corps officers in New Orleans when she arrived and now serve as corps officers in Amarillo, Texas.
“The greatest thing I got out of The Salvation Army was Major Debra Hull,” Carla said. “Major Debbie had a brand of discipline that I grew up with, and I give her all the credit for my sanity while living in the shelter. I just love her. Majors Hull both told me not to worry. They would find me help, and everything would be okay. That’s what kept me going. Those two are incredible people.”
Carla and Majors Hull both share New York as their hometown and bonded over their shared culture.
“Both Major Debra Hull and I love Carla,” Major Ernest Hull said. “She’s a wonderful person. We’re so proud of the effort she put in while in the shelter. She did everything she needed to do for her success. We were in COVID-19 isolation lock-down with her for 54 days in the shelter, so we became close. Carla became like a sister to us.”
A corps social worker reached out to Carla one day and told her that it was time to start working on an exit plan. Carla asked her to help look for a new home because she wasn’t familiar with New Orleans well enough to understand the best neighborhoods for her to live in.
“New Orleans is providential and backward to me! I don’t understand it, but that’s part of its charm. The people don’t move fast; everything is fluid,” Carla said.
She found an apartment within a day and began the process of moving in.
“I love the city,” she said. “I’ve been here before. I worked for Blain Kern in the ’90s. I left and went back home to New York for a while, but I’m back now. I live near the French Quarter. Everything is within walking distance. It’s so convenient. I like being near the river. The Mississippi River and I have an amicable relationship.”
Although she has returned to living independently, Carla enjoys returning to the shelter daily to positively contribute to people’s lives as a cook who can share a message of perseverance.
“You can lose your mind. You can literally lose your mind when you are homeless,” said Carla. “I went from living in an apartment by myself for 15 years to living in a dorm room with 32 women who have all kinds of problems. I don’t get ruffled by a lot of things. I’m a New Yorker. I’m a progressive thinker. I see where people in the shelters are dealing with a lot. Multiple personality disorder, drug addiction, women who have dealt with abuse, or have dealt with the death of a child. I can see these people struggling to overcome their past. You see how some of them are so strong.”
“It’s important for everyone to know that you can make a situation as good or as bad as you want,” Carla said. “I’m happy to be able to spread a message of faith and strength to the people of The Salvation Army.”
(Shared from the blog of The Salvation Army Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division.)