One of Lorraine’s fondest childhood memories is her mother’s cooking. Food was her mother’s way of saying, “I love you.” But no day was better than Thanksgiving and the magical aroma of turkey, ham, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, yams, and sweet potato pie. Lorraine was only 11 when the magic ended. That’s when her stepfather came into the family, bringing verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. Lorraine’s mother quickly became a drug addict. And love disappeared from the home. Then the unthinkable happened. Lorraine was 13 when she was raped by her stepfather.
“When I told my mom, she didn’t believe me,” Lorraine recalls. “She just said, ‘No way. He’d never do that.’ After that, I felt so alone. I didn’t feel like I was worthy of living.” A scar on Lorraine’s face, from a car accident, was just the physical manifestation of the wounds she felt inside:
“ I hated myself. When I looked in a mirror, all I could see was how ugly I was.”
Lorraine left home at 15. She soon had her first child at 16, dropped out of school, and her life slowly unraveled — abusive men, alcohol abuse, more children, and severe depression crippled her. In August 2014, unemployed and a mother of four, she came to Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens.
Cooking Up a New Life
“I asked God to help me build a new life,” she says. “Hope Gardens was the perfect place for me. God answered all my prayers. The people here didn’t see me as a scared and ugly girl no one cared about. God used them to drive the clouds away in my heart and bring the sunshine out. They showed me I’m not Lorraine-who’s-ugly-and-raped. I’m just me. A brand-new person.” Today, Lorraine is also a cook on staff at Hope Gardens, where she serves nearly 222 meals a day to mothers, children, and senior women. “This is my dream come true,” she says. “When I cook, it reminds me of the magic of my mom’s cooking.” But no meal has been more important than Thanksgiving: “Last year, I got to cook all the things I remember from childhood: turkey, ham, mac and cheese, sweet potato pie, all of it. I cooked all night. It was my way of showing the women and kids here how much they’re loved. When we all prayed, I thanked God for Hope Gardens, for my new life, and for my chance to give back to these women. It was the best day ever.”