When Angie’s husband left her for her best friend, she moved out and shut herself away from society for 12 years.

“I couldn’t handle the hurt and devastation from my marriage breakup,” she says. “My home was the only place I felt safe until I walked through the doors of The Salvation Army.”

“How Are You Doing?”
For years, Angie suffered with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that usually begins with a stressful event. As time passes, the extreme fear of being in public confines the person to their home, and they can’t live a normal life.

“I felt unsafe and had panic attacks in any type of crowd,” says Angie. “I only left my house once a month to get groceries. Friends ran errands for me and my medications were delivered. I couldn’t do my job as a personal support worker. I’d hit rock bottom.”

Bills and lack of food became a constant stress for Angie. One day, she ventured across the street to The Salvation Army’s Manna Café in Gananoque, Ont., for a meal. The café is a bistro-style environment that allows the hungry to dine with dignity.

“When I walked through the doors I was in a small space, surrounded by lots of people,” says Angie. “Sweat poured off my brow and tears trickled down my cheek. My heart was racing and I was breathless. I can’t do this, I thought. I turned to leave when a voice said, ‘How are you doing?’ ”

A New Self-Confidence
The voice belonged to Dave Harvey, executive director of the café.

“I told Dave I was OK, but panicky,” Angie recalls.

“You are in a safe place,” Dave replied.

“That meant everything to me,” she says.

Angie continued to receive daily lunches at the café. After a month had passed, she was asked if she’d be interested in volunteering, serving tea, coffee and meals.

“I wanted to volunteer but was embarrassed by my tattered clothes, worn boots and rotting teeth,” says Angie. “The Salvation Army provided me with clothes and shoes and helped me get my teeth fixed. I went from being broken and hopeless to feeling self-confident, safe and energized.

“Finding, going to and volunteering at the café changed everything for me. When I get fully better I’m going to work in the Army’s family services. I have a soft spot for struggling people.”

Linda Leigh is manager of communications at The Salvation Army’s territorial headquarters in Toronto.

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