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LINDA

Story by Heartland Alliance December 5th, 2014

90 pounds

When she first walked through the doors a few years ago, Linda weighed just 90 pounds. Years of drug and alcohol use coupled with untreated HIV had taken their toll on her. Desperate to make a future for herself and rejoin her family she joined a recovery home and began her journey towards sobriety – and it stuck.

“I was at my lowest point when I reached out for help, but that’s when I was really ready to make a change,” she says. “I didn’t want to live like that, I wanted to get healthy. So when my recovery home had us meet with Heartland Alliance’s nutritionists and food pantry for people who are HIV positive, that was perfect.”

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A DREAM COME TRUE

Linda continued her recovery, eventually leaving the group home, but she didn’t leave Heartland Alliance. To many, gaining 90 pounds and spending days in a walk-in cooler doesn’t sound like fun. But to Linda, who’d been going hungry, unable to afford food – especially coolers full of fresh veggies – it was a dream come true. Her nutritionist helped her plan her meals, she walked through Heartland Alliance’s pantry and picked the food that would help keep her HIV and cholesterol under control, and for the first time in years, she knew she wouldn’t go hungry again. There were people who wouldn’t let that happen.
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real friends

It had been a long time since she’d felt like she was part of a community, or since she’d had real friends. During her years in addiction, so many of her loved ones had turned their back on her. She’d found something special, and she wanted to bring it to others – to those like her who may have forgotten what it was like to have somewhere you belong.

“BECAUSE IT’S NOT ABOUT ME ANYMORE…IT’S ABOUT HOW CAN I MAKE SOMEONE ELSE’S DAY OR MOMENT BETTER.”

“As soon as I started getting my food there, I began volunteering too,” Linda says. “Many of the people who come [to Heartland Alliance] are in recovery like me, or some are very sick or depressed. They’re my friends now, and they need someone to just come listen to them or cheer them up. And you know what? Sometimes I feel like that too. But just knowing I’m going in to volunteer I liven up. Because it’s not about me anymore, or how I feel, it’s about how can I make someone else’s day or moment better.”

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mom's home

And for a woman who seven years ago was sick, homeless, and ready to give up, Linda is now healthy, happy, and the smiling face that people look forward to seeing every day. For those at Heartland Alliance, her indomitable spirit is proof that if you give someone opportunity and support, they can fly. For her family, it’s more simple – mom’s home.

“YOU KNOW, LIFE IS REALLY GOOD NOW. REALLY GOOD.”

“A few years ago, I was drinking and drugging and with my HIV and my cholesterol, I was really sick. I’m not that person now. I’m helping others, and my family is happy to see me and they invite me over,” Linda says. “I’m sober, Heartland Alliance helps me stay healthy, and I help other people stay healthy too. And now, I’m going to school to be a medical assistant – just two credit hours left. But most importantly I’m just loving on my grandkids. You know, life is really good now. Really good.”

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Footnote: Photography by Ally Stewart, Story by Melissa Spear
Chicago, Illinois
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