By Ruth Ferris
For clients and staff at Eatonville Family Agency, the presence of Bonnie Pulliam is often what greets them as they enter its doors. A big voice, which is attached to a big heart, is an integral part of the welcome there.
It seems impossible that the grant that has funded her work will come to an end on April 15. While I am sure that we shall continue to see her there as a volunteer, her “retirement” has reminded us of how important she is, as are all those who work and volunteer for the EFA.
She encourages others to volunteer or to contribute because of how meaningful that experience has been for her. By working hard to treat the EFA’s clients with respect, she has established a very special bond with many of them. She values those who work at the agency, seeing daily how hard they work to give assistance to those in need. Bonnie leads the way to make EFA a special place.
It is hard to miss the fact that Bonnie finds joy in working at the agency. Being raised by a single mother who was a restaurant worker, she experienced some times in her childhood that were hard, so she identifies with those who come to its doors because they are going through hard times.
She not only works with the food part of the food bank. She opens her heart to those who need the food. Many feel gratitude and shame all mixed together when they have to ask for food or clothing, and Bonnie tries to alleviate their embarrassment by joking and trying to cheer them up.
She reminds all of us that a childhood can be happy in spite of hardship.
Her divorced parents worked hard to give her a happy, secure childhood. Her dad stayed in the picture, and her mother reassured her of her love daily, saying that as long as they had food, clothing and a clean place to live, they were okay. Her mother would give her 25 cents for lunch, and she would save it to buy a Christmas present for her mother. Her story is a wonderful variation of O Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” the classic tale of love flourishing in spite of economic hardship.
My favorite part of our interview was when Bonnie confessed, rather sheepishly, that she had been expelled from school for getting in a fight. Two new little girls, children of color, enrolled in her school. She came out of school one day to see them surrounded by girls who were picking on them. In the tradition of Don Quixote taking on the windmills, Bonnie charged into the group of girls, the cast on a recently broken arm scattering them right and left. She was expelled. When her 5-foot2, 100-pound mother took her back to school to be reinstated, she bristled with outrage that her daughter had been expelled for doing what her mother felt was the right thing to do. That courage and love for the vulnerable shaped the Bonnie we know and love.
Goodbyes to Bonnie would be much sadder if all at EFA didn’t know that her heart will pull her back to the agency often to be with the staff and clients that she loves.
Ruth Ferris is a member of the Eatonville Family Agency’s Board of Directors.