By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Growing up, there were some mornings Shelvi McFadden would wake up to find a stranger sitting at the breakfast table in her grandmother’s house sharing whatever there was to eat.
If there was anyone who needed a hot meal and a bed for the night in their neighborhood, it was her grandmother, Mary Glover, who would step in to give it. That was how life was in the Jefferson Street area housing. Neighbors watched out for each other, and McFadden’s grandmother set the example.
“My grandmother would take someone off the street,” McFadden said. “She would let them take a bath, feed them. It was low income housing – on Blodgett Street behind the public pool – but family watched out for family.”
Even after moving out of the neighborhood and raising her own family, it was a lesson McFadden kept in her heart.
Watching out for others is part of the drive that keeps working two jobs. This ensures her children have what they need, yes, but it also allows her to give back to the community at the level she thinks is needed– especially her support through giving and volunteering through United Way of Northeast Florida.
Weekdays, McFadden is a reference lab manager for OneBlood, helping hospitals find transfusion blood for complicated cases. Weekends, she works as a medical technologist at Mayo Clinic in Florida.
McFadden will tell you she didn’t really apply the lessons in giving her grandmother taught her until 17 years ago, when she was somewhat of a loss for what to do with herself. She had separated from her husband and, now, is a single parent. Something was needed to fill the lonely void.
“Initially, I started giving because I met this lady, we worked together, and she had this side business for seniors,” McFadden said. “I went by to visit one day and was in awe of what she was doing. I wanted to help, and she told me about United Way.”
The program, a senior day care program called “Peaches-N-A-Basket,” which her co-worker had developed, became McFadden’s focus.
“I didn’t know I was looking for a purpose,” McFadden said. “I was going through a rough time in my life and needed something positive. She just lit the spark – divine intervention. I could have just written a check, but it wouldn’t have been enough.”
Little by little, McFadden began to invest her time through United Way’s resource development committee, then through United Way’s ReadingPals and, of course, helping out with Peaches-N-A-Basket.
“I enjoyed meeting people and seeing where the different organizations fit into the community,” McFadden said. “It makes a difference when you can see the places the help goes to, and now I can see it made a bigger impact on me.”
McFadden doesn’t feel she can give back the way her grandmother did but has found other ways.
“My grandmother would walk through the neighborhood and people would call out to Mary Glover,” McFadden said. “I don’t have that, but I can read to a 4 year old or make a gift basket for someone who needs it.
“She made it a point that we should help if we can, and I’m doing that.”
For more about United Way of Northeast Florida, its partners and how you can make a difference in our community, visit unitedwaynefl.org.