Miranda Carolus knows what poverty, addiction and hopelessness feels like. She also knows how one compassionate person can plant a seed of hope that grows into a changed life.
While Carolus still struggles to pay her bills and will use the Christmas Bureau to help put gifts under the tree for her three kids this year, as reported on Saturday, she’s working toward a brighter future. Meanwhile, she’s volunteering at the charity as a way to give back.
The Christmas Bureau, held annually at the fairgrounds, distributes toys, books and food vouchers to low-income families. It’s funded by donations from Spokesman-Review readers.
For Carolus, the charity has made Christmas happier for her family during some difficult years.
“I’ve used the Christmas Bureau since my kids were babies,” she said, going on to describe the years she struggled with poverty.
At age 16, Carolus, now 31, had a baby and dropped out of school. From there she lived precariously on a string of minimum wage jobs, working in dry cleaning, cashiering, telemarketing and fast food. But the bills were often bigger than the paycheck.
By October 2004, she had a rocky marriage, three kids and little hope. That’s when she began using methamphetamine.
“When I started using I was heavy, my marriage wasn’t going well. When I used it was as if all my problems went away,” she said, noting that addicts often want to replicate the elusive euphoria of their first high.
“You’re always looking for that next perfect feeling,” she said, adding that you never find it. “You can say ‘one more time’ for the rest of your life.”
Within months she’d developed a daily addiction and instead of her problems disappearing under the drug use, her life deteriorated.
“My life revolved around drugs, a life that was horrible,” she said, noting that she wasn’t the mom her children needed and she lost custody of them. She also became involved in criminal activity to support her addiction.
“What I’ve put other people through, what I put my kids through – when I got clean I had to come to terms with that,” she said.
In 2007, after three years using meth, Carolus said she met a woman who changed her life.
“She was very religious. She hugged me. An incredible shiver went through my entire body. We talked for an hour. We started going to church,” she recalled. “What is insignificant to one person, to the next it’s such a big deal.”
After that meeting, Carolus said she only used one more time.
“When I did use the feelings were worse than the feelings I was trying to cover up,” she explained, adding that the church began helping them, paying to get the power turned on and making sure they had food in the kitchen.
A couple months later Carolus said she entered a treatment program and worked to get and stay clean. This January she’ll celebrate six years off of drugs.
This life change didn’t make her poverty disappear, however, so in 2008 she earned her GED. Since then she’s regained custody of her three children, earned an AA degree at Spokane Community College and is pursuing a degree in social work at EWU. She expects to graduate in June.
For her practicum, Carolus works at the House of Charity, one of 12 social-service programs Catholic Charities operates to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, counseling and support to anyone in need.
Though her life has a hopeful future, money is tight and Carolus admits that her past is a present-day hurdle.
“People look at you and because that’s your background, that’s who they think you are,” she said. “As soon as they see that, it’s a ‘no.’ I have got deep scars that aren’t very pretty.”
Carolus said it’s her goal to use her experiences and education to make a difference in the lives of other struggling people, whether that’s the homeless population, addicts or other people in need.
“Working with the homeless population, you really see what the bottom of the barrel looks like,” she said, adding, “I know what it takes to get to that place and what it takes to get out of it.”
She also knows what it feels like to be treated with dignity – the way she has been at the Christmas Bureau each year.
“Everybody is so nice. They don’t look at you like you’re lower than anyone else,” she said, adding, “If it weren’t for the Christmas Bureau, there wouldn’t be a Christmas dinner. There wouldn’t be anything nice under the tree.”
Treating the recipients with respect is a key goal of the program, say organizers. In return, many of them want to give back, just like Carolus.
“Oftentimes we see individuals who’ve suffered the effects of poverty and addiction,” said Ann Marie Byrd, Catholic Charities development director. “Once stabilized, they return to our programs wanting to give back in some way, whether that be by volunteering, giving a small donation and even providing testimony to the support they’ve received.”
The Guy and Ruth Reed Memorial Fund at Inland Northwest Community Foundation endowed $878 for the Christmas Bureau this year.
Terry Deno of Spokane gave $680.
Bill and Mabel McInerney of Priest Lake, Idaho, donated $500.
William and Deborah Pierce of Spokane gave $250.
Russ and Kathy Mager of Deer Park donated $200.
MaryAnn and Charles Catchpole of Spokane gave $100.
Wayne Bass and Kathryn Sharp of Liberty Lake donated $100 “in memory of Evelyn Phillips and Ida Bass, our mothers.”
Patrice Seeny and Michael Carper of Spokane also gave $100.
Myrna Decker of Liberty Lake donated $100, writing, “My heart goes out to the parent who will wait in the cold to get to choose a gift for their child.”
Robert Schlemeyer of Spokane gave $100.
An anonymous donor from Spokane donated $50, saying “Merry Christmas.”
Also giving $50 were Steve, Gail and Ben Quaid of Colbert; W.H. and V.A. Selzer of Spokane; Nancy Mac Kerrow of Spokane; and Alene Pokstefl of Spokane Valley.
William and Vicki Countreman of Carlsbad, Calif., mailed $50 in memory of Larry Hutcheson, “beloved husband of Kathleen Hutcheson” of Spokane.
David Remendowski donated $48.25 via PayPal.
Marge Boyles of Spokane gave $35.
Helene Taylor and Eddie Heavner, both of Spokane, each donated $30.
Ronald and Susan Coyle of Spokane gave $25, as did John and Mary Richards of Spokane.