From Country Club To Food Bank: Tulsa Woman Finds Help On Journey

Tuesday, April 28th 2015, 4:50 pm
By: News On 6

Each year, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma holds a fundraiser it calls "Empty Bowls."

It's a symbol - a reminder of our neighbors who will leave the table hungry or go without food altogether. But with your help, thousands of empty bowls will be filled.

I was emceeing a concert to raise money for the Food Bank over the Christmas holidays when I first heard Shawna's story. It was unexpected and powerful.

And I knew right then, it was a story I wanted to share with all of you.

A long and sometimes heartbreaking journey led Shawna Simpson to a Tulsa classroom. She graduated college with a degree in computer science and has years of formal training in classical music - something she mostly pursues for an audience of two these days.

Her resume is filled with accomplishments, honors and awards, but all that feels like another lifetime.

"Sometimes I kind of feel like an imposter when I read my own bio," said Shawna Simpson.

Shawna's life now is based on a different choice, one that began with hope and love but then went terribly wrong.

"You know you get married, the suburban dream. The husband goes to work, and you get to stay home and raise your babies," she said. "And I had it. I had every bit of it."

Her marriage fell apart, leaving her and her two young sons on the brink of bankruptcy.

3/16/2015 Related Story: Food Bank's Mobile Eatery Feeds Hungry Oklahomans During Spring Break

"There were a lot of those really tough phone calls," Shawna said. "You know, trying to juggle those due dates and everything so you can keep the water running, you can keep the power on, the roof over your head and feed your kids at the same time. It was a lot of juggling."

After almost a decade out of the work force, Shawna says her computer programming skills were hopelessly outdated.

She decided to become a teacher, but before she could be certified, she needed a year in the classroom serving as an assistant. The pay varies between $7 and $8 an hour.

With two kids, Shawna took a second job in retail and even did some tutoring on the side to try to make ends meet. But her budget would simply not stretch far enough -

which is where the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma came into her life.

Shawna still remembers driving up to a food pantry for the very first time.

"You know, you have your kids in your car, and you're driving up and you make the circle about three or four times and you think - 'I can't do this, I can't be this bad.'"

Then she realized she'd found just the help she needed.

"I never felt judged. I never felt like people were looking down on me," said Shawna Simpson, a woman who encountered hardship and hunger after her marriage fell apart.

"There were even volunteers I had known from my past life. You know, when we were country club members," she said.

Those country club days are long gone, but Shawna is now nearing the end of her first year as a full-fledged teacher, and her young family is getting back on its feet.

"I'm not going to lie and say that if I could go back and do it again, I'd still do it. That I would live through this again. But my little family is so much stronger for what we've been through," she said.

Shawna knows that what happened to her, could happen to almost anybody.

"If your paycheck next month just vanished - how would you pay your bills, how would you pay your rent?" Shawna asked. "We're all so close to that, and I think that's where the food bank steps in."

But the Food Bank can only step in with the support of the community. Empty Bowls is their biggest fundraiser of the year.

We know everyone can't make it here to downtown Tulsa, so this year, we're coming to you. If you'd like to help, you can make a $10 donation to the food bank by texting "KIDS" to 501501.

Your support would be greatly appreciated.