When 57-year-old Joyce went for her annual routine check-up at the physician’s office, she was not expecting to hear bad news. She was only concerned about paying her co-pay. You see, Joyce, lives on a very low, fixed income which doesn’t provide much room for medical co-pays and extra expenses or groceries. Joyce shared how she was forced every month to make a choice between buying her medicine or buying groceries for her and her granddaughter.

Joyce has been caring for her granddaughter for over 10 years. She was referred to the Kinship Program in 2010 and has been an active member ever since. Kinship assisted Joyce over the years with legal assistance to obtain custody of her granddaughter, as well as, financial assistance through flex funding to repair her car and provide holiday assistance.

Although Joyce is active in her granddaughter’s life through extracurricular activities, she found a new love in 2014 for gardening. Joyce and her granddaughter spend hours cultivating, planting and harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables through the Master Gardener’s Project in Ocala. This project assists lower income individuals with their own plots of land and provides guidance with gardening organic fruits and vegetables.  All of the items grown in the gardens belong to those individuals, and they are taught how to grow a wide variety of different plants. This program helped Joyce tremendously through those months when it was too tight to actually buy food.

In 2015, Joyce found herself in a bad financial bind when her car needed repaired. She could not afford to have her car repaired and buy food that month. Joyce asked the Kinship Care Program for help, and she was referred to a program called Reaching Up for assistance with food on a weekly basis. This program assists with food on a weekly basis. In return, clients are expected to donate their time to help with various chores around the church’s workspace. This additional help has been life-giving.

Last year, Joyce decided it was time for her to give back to others after being blessed with assistance through the Kinship Care and the Reaching Up Programs. Joyce decided to donate fresh fruits and vegetables to Reaching Up on a monthly basis, as well as, to give some to the relative caregivers in the Kinship Care Program. Joyce picks large quantities of this produce and gives them to others. She shares that she feels good about giving others what she once didn’t have: food. Now, she eats almost 100 percent organic because of her fresh fruit and vegetables. She juices the fruits and states and shared how her health has improved.

Recently when she returned for her regular annual checkup, the doctor informed her that she needs to have a heart procedure. Joyce began to worry about finances again, and who would care for her granddaughter while she was hospitalized. The news overwhelmed her.

Joyce visited her garden. She often takes her troubles to the soil and finds peace in her garden while she talks to God and tends to her crop.  After much prayer and talking to God, Joyce felt comfortable having the surgery and found a neighbor to care for her granddaughter.  When the surgeon opened her chest, he said he found the heart of a 15-year-old with no abnormalities and no surgical repair needed. He did not have to repair her heart or place any type of artificial equipment in her. Her heart was healthy and pumping blood through her body just as it should. When Joyce woke up after surgery and heard the news, a sense of relief washed over her, and she felt that she had received a miracle.

Joyce called Melissa Casto to tell her the story, let her know she was fine, and would be able to continue to give the fruits and veggies away. She sounded happy and bubbly. Melissa could hear her smile through the phone. Melissa told her that we are never sure of all the answers to our problems, but one thing that she was sure about was that Joyce is an overcomer.  She not only cares for her granddaughter through sacrificial love, but she feeds and nurtures so many other families through her gardening project with that same love. She has taken her problem and found a solution creating her purpose. Melissa said, “I think, God decided that alone deserves a new heart.”

By: Melissa Casto