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What a gift – and a lot of pizzas – you have given me and someone who didn’t want your sympathy


Thanks to your generosity, Catherine Hembrecht, 70, will receive the help she needs. But there are thousands of people like her who live in your communities.

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Whenever I begin to question the humanity and kindness of the American spirit, I am reminded: Most people are generous and caring.

On Sunday, I wrote a column about an Indiana woman who has $2 in her pocket until her next Social Security check. Catherine Hembrecht, 70, who lives alone and is recovering from a leg amputation, opened up to me about her financial difficulties but was quite clear: “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.”

Within an hour – as readers started learning about Hembrecht – my email inbox and social media channels were exploding with hundreds of people who wanted to help her.

Hembrecht herself fielded calls from individuals in California, Minnesota and Florida who offered financial assistance. She asked them to donate instead to a charity or homeless shelter in their city.

Because that’s the kind of selfless soul this woman is, who lives on such a tight budget that some months she has an extra $2 and some months an extra $9 and this month is trying to figure out how to make some adjustments to her rental home to accommodate her new wheelchair. Oh, and this month she had a hankering for a pizza she couldn’t afford.

‘I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me’: $2 until the next check and no money for pizza

Trying to pay it forward

I didn’t disclose her address or phone number in my column, but some were compelled to track her down: 14 pizzas from industrious senders arrived at her door throughout Sunday.  

She has since received more than she could eat. She has instructed Pizza Hut to delay deliveries or send the extra pies to homeless shelters. She anticipates regularly receiving pizza and wants to donate some to area schools so children can enjoy pizza parties.

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Hembrecht is a strong and proud woman. And while she’s grateful for the monetary assistance and pizza, she wants to find a way to help others in need. Hembrecht also wants some of the outpouring to support struggling veterans.

“Those men and women have done so much for us,” she said. “They have paid the price.”

‘Not alone in her circumstances’

I’m working with a local nonprofit to help facilitate the overwhelming outpouring of support – a trusted place where people can send money or supplies and ensure it gets to Hembrecht – and I will share details as soon as they are ironed out.  

“I don’t feel sorry for her,” one reader wrote me in an email. “I feel empathy because she is not alone in her circumstances. And it could be anyone of us at any time given circumstances. A pizza is a small pleasure that I would love to provide for her. It doesn’t take a lot to offer a little help.”

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Others have offered to pay her rent for a year, send gift cards, buy groceries, finance the building of a wheelchair ramp she needs, mow her yard, and move her washer and dryer to a more accessible space.

What a gift you have given Hembrecht – and me.

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‘This is what America is about’

See, I got into journalism to use my God-given writing skills to help others – by exposing wrongdoing and bringing attention to those whose voices and circumstances are often ignored. I had dreams as a child of changing the world. Time and experience have taught me that while I might not be able to change the world, I can certainly have an impact in a small corner of it.   

I will continue writing about Americans who are barely making ends meet. It’s a good reminder for all of us, particularly as we battle inflationary cost increases.

Hembrecht, thanks to your generosity, will receive the help she needs. But there are thousands of people like her who live in your communities. If you are able, please donate to area nonprofits and organizations that are bridging the widening financial gap for those who exist on shoestring budgets.

“This is what America is about – respect and love each other,” Hembrecht told me, before hanging up to go freeze more pizza.

More from Suzette Hackney:

We have a pandemic of poor policing practices on our hands, and lives are at risk

This is the story of an HBCU civil rights wrong fixed 65 years later and the hope it offers

Lack of details around search of Trump’s home is maddening. It’s also the process.

National columnist/deputy opinion editor Suzette Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board. Contact her at shackney@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @suzyscribe

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