Formerly homeless, family prepares to host Thanksgiving for others still homeless

Natalie Box, 30, climbed out of homelessness three months ago. She lives in north Minneapolis with her mother and four children--and this year she'll be serving a Thanksgiving meal for her friends and family who are still homeless.

"Everybody I know is homeless," Box said. "I'm not just supporting myself, I'm supporting everybody else, because I'm the one with the house.''

Box's family is one of 1,500 who received free turkey dinner packages Tuesday at Cub Foods' 'Unity in Community' event at People Serving People in Minneapolis. It is aimed at helping those formerly homeless.

Some of the families came from Simpson Housing Services, Project for Pride in Living and through St. Stephen's Human Services. Each package feeds up to 10 people, and Cub Foods distributed about 5,000 packages across Minnesota, including in Duluth and Willmar.

Box's mother, Heidi Box, 50, waited in line with her daughter for a package.

"I'm crying tears of joy and I praise the Lord that people are so thoughtful of the less fortunate. I'm so thankful for today and for everybody," Heidi said.

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But the two said they still worry about other struggles they have year-round.

Although she has shelter, Natalie said she still has trouble meeting the basic needs of her family. This means gifts for her children are almost impossible.

Heidi said the family's financial problems began after she and her daughter escaped her abusive husband in California and moved to the Twin Cities to start a new life.

Natalie Box initially had a job in the Twin Cities, but said she got in a car accident that injured her spine , which put her out of work. Since then, Natalie said she's relied on public assistance. She receives $1,300 a month, but her rent is $1,200 each month. She said she gets $500 in food stamps to feed a family of six.

Natalie said she remembers how good she felt during the holidays as a child, before she slipped into poverty, and wishes her kids could have that experience.

"I had my good holiday memories," Natalie said. "I want them to have them, too."

The women attended the meal event with a friend, Kristina Mitchell, 32, who found housing in September. She also finds this a tough time of year.

"I'm trying to stay joyful and appreciative," Mitchell said. "We do it for our kids. They see us down, they'll be down, too."

The women and many others at the event who were recently homeless said they rely on their faith through the holidays.

"I teach my children, you have to pray to make it through the day," Heidi Box said. Another thing she wishes she had during the holidays: gas to get to church..

For some, it wasn't just about having a Thanksgiving meal, but just about having a meal at all.

"This means I get to eat on Thanksgiving. It means a hell of a lot," said Fabian Henderson, 42, of south Minneapolis. "Any meal is a good meal if you don't really got food."