Turn it off!” I screamed to my husband as bathtub jets sprayed across the room.

We’d just moved into our new house. I’d never used such a luxurious oversized tub before, so I thought I’d clean it and take a dip … but as soon as I turned it on, it was clear something was wrong. My husband Jeremy ran over, punched in the panel, and unplugged the motor – and as the jets fell silent, all we heard was a slow drip, drip, drip.

That bathtub was the first domino to fall in a series of devastating events we never saw coming.

Like many parents, we had set our hearts on giving our kids the picture-perfect childhood, complete with a nice house and a dog to play with. That wish came true in 2021, when we moved from North Carolina to Florida after saving up for a down payment on a short-sale house in the nicest neighborhood that we could afford.

We called our home “a 1990s diamond in the rough.” But neither we nor the inspector realized exactly how rough.

Our problems didn’t end with the tub. Years of steady leaking had led to rotting wood, moldy pipes, and a thorough infestation of ants. Insurance barely covered the cost of mold removal, and, to make matters worse, we still needed to replace the 20-year-old roof. Not long after, we were notified that our insurance had been canceled.

We’d spent the last of our savings to rip out the bathroom, even working alongside the demolition team to save a few dollars. How were we supposed to afford a new roof? How would we get insurance without it? What would happen to our family if we lost our mortgage – and the house we just bought?

I was overwhelmed with guilt. Two weeks prior, I had put in my two weeks’ notice at work so I could be home more for our kids and help them adjust to the move – but now, we needed every cent we had to cover home repairs, and I was unemployed. Gone was the excitement of new homeownership. We were racing the clock trying to come up with repair money that we just didn’t have.

The next month, my inner turmoil reached a tipping point. After a long day of sledgehammering in the bathroom, my whole body seized up. I couldn’t speak, move or walk – and after 24 hours at the hospital and $40,000 worth of tests, my neurologist said that it was the result of overwhelming stress.

When we got home, I was at my lowest point. I was scared by my physical condition, embarrassed by my reaction, and worried about how we would pay for our mounting bills. Finally, something nudged at my memory: a tiny food pantry that I used to work at in college. Even if all I could get was some spaghetti dinners, it would help.

I grabbed my phone and Googled food banks near me.

The next day, I drove down to The Neighborhood Center of South Lake’s food pantry – and I was stunned by what I found. Within a few minutes of waiting in line, the volunteers brought me a personalized cart loaded to the brim with food. Glancing at a fresh pineapple and a full gallon of milk among the heaping cart, all I could say was, “This is amazing. Where does all this food come from?”

“Oh, mostly from Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. They have a big warehouse in Orlando,” a volunteer told me cheerfully.

When Jeremy saw the groceries that night, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “When things are better,” he said, “we’re finding some way to give back for this … this incredible gift!” I put my fist up and shook it with a grin, the way football coaches do when their team gets a touchdown. We can keep the house!

Like Jeremy, I wanted to do something to give back – so each week, I spent a few hours volunteering at The Neighborhood Center. That experience made me realize that there are so many people of all backgrounds who visit the food pantry. Some work full-time or multiple jobs. Some own their own businesses. Some people drive nice cars. All of them found themselves needing a helping hand.


Every day, Second Harvest Food Bank and feeding partners like The Neighborhood Center help thousands of families like mine. I’m thrilled to say that their support has allowed me to return to work stronger and healthier – and to keep a safe roof over our heads and healthy food on the table.

This guest post was submitted by Stephanie Carter. Stephanie lives in Clermont with her husband and their two children.


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