Emma’s Story - United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County
Emma’s Story - United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County

Emma’s Story

Receiving and Sharing Food was a Gift of Hope
  • July 15, 2021
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Emma, a Lipan Apache and Carrizo Comecrudo Indian, is also known as “Grandma” to many—even those who are not related. It’s a name of respect, endearment and cultural significance.

A retired bilingual instructional aid and cultural specialist at Harlandale Independent School District, she will be 84 in November.

Always active, Emma is an artist and singer. She is also a storyteller, sharing her talents at schools and special events.

“I don’t know if I’m an artist or a craftsman, but I love it. I live it. I write stories and poetry. I’m not just doing art. It’s part of who I am. It’s part of life. I listen to everything. Something will talk to me.”

You might find Emma painting, working with clay, doing beadwork, creating wall hangings and jewelry, stringing chili ristras, and other activities as the spirit moves her. She shows and sells her art at Pow Wows, Indian markets, festivals and other happenings, events and special occasions.

You might also find Emma in the kitchen. She respects food and is a creative cook. Growing up poor, she says she never knew it for most of her early childhood years.

“My mother could make something wonderful out of nothing. We always had rice and beans and eggs. We had chickens.”

Like her mother, Emma can make a meal out of anything. She loves to cook—and share. She takes her portion out, then takes it down the street to help nourish neighbors.

“I am not a rake just taking things in. I have to give back—whether it’s caring for someone else, calling to see if they’re OK, through sharing a song, my art or by storytelling.” Or by sharing her food.

Her grandson, Donavan, who is not quite a teen, comes to visit every third weekend of the month. While complimenting everything she makes, he always requests her enchiladas, which makes her happy.

But when COVID-19 swept across San Antonio, everything stopped. Selling her artwork slowed to a crawl. Many people did not want to leave their homes and events were cancelled. Grocery stores were in flux as they restocked and adapted.

Then Emma got sick with an infection. Not the Coronavirus, but she was very ill and by herself. Friends, “granddaughters,” and nieces came to help, but Emma lost weight, was weak and didn’t feel safe driving.

“One day, my nephew said, ‘Grandma, we signed you up at the San Antonio Food Bank.’”

His care, concern and action made a marked difference in Emma’s life.

Arriving on the day that made local and national headlines, Emma joined the thousands of cars with individuals and families waiting in line for food.

“The multitude of people there was staggering. I didn’t know that hunger had a hold on San Antonio so deeply. As I sat there, I saw the multitude of cars and cars and cars. My adventure turned to reality. Hunger became a reality.”

As she waited, she put a sign on her dash that read, “Thank You. God Bless You” and became an instant friend to the Food Bank staff and volunteers.

Emma received boxes and bags of food and bottles of water. An abundance of items for her ongoing sustenance. Emma also received hope. For herself and her neighbors.

“I was getting food in this door and here and there.

When she got home and unpacked, she was amazed and grateful. It was wonderful, she says. There were vegetables, chicken, milk and so much more.

I was put there for a reason. I received so much, and I was able to share with older people in my neighborhood who were afraid to go out. I live alone and provide for myself, but I always give to others.”

Emma has lived in the same house since 1966. She knows what it’s like to juggle and balance paying bills – groceries, utilities, car repairs and even plumbing problems can throw the budget off. She lives modestly but plans ahead to make things work.

“I think some of the dads and families and single moms in the Food Bank line, might feel bad because they think they can’t provide. They’re not used to asking, but it’s a survival thing and the children come first.

I know that the San Antonio Food Bank is readily available, but I don’t use it often because I would rather the children eat than me.

It reminds me of a legend passed down through the years. My tribe was experiencing a great draught. There was no food, no game. The children were starving, and the parents would give theirs to the young ones. One day, the elders went off into the woods. As the hunters went out that day, they saw an animal never before seen in that area. It was a bear. The old people had vanished and turned into a bear so the children could eat and survive.

For me, I’m a survivor. I make ends meet one way or another. I’m grateful for the Food Bank and my friends and relatives who call and say, “Grandma, don’t cook today; we’ll bring you supper.”

We are a community. We can all contribute, and all give in one way or another. It keeps the community alive.”

Emma has a large tattoo on her upper arm. She designed the dragonfly herself, which to her symbolizes the keeper of dreams. Perhaps receiving and sharing food when times were difficult was a dream come true.

What does Emma have to say to the Food Bank, United Way and nonprofit organizations helping provide a safety net to those in crisis or immediate need?

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. We all need one another whether we realize it or not.

Our community is enriched when people stand up to help.”

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