The first time Sandra Ybarra flew in an airplane was the day she boarded a medevac flight with her infant son. “It was a little bitty plane, just me and the pilot up front, and the baby and two medical staff in back,” she recalled. “I was so scared and very overwhelmed.”
Sandra’s son, Manny, was born with gastroschisis, a condition in which the intestines are outside of the body. After seven surgeries in his first four weeks, Manny’s doctors recommended that he be transferred to the Nebraska Medical Center (NMC), which specializes in organ transplants. Sandra left everything behind with family in Oklahoma, including her oldest son, and flew with one-month-old Manny to Omaha. “That was the hardest part,” she said. “I didn’t want to have to leave my other son.”
Alone in an unfamiliar city without family, friends or a job, Sandra lived in the Ronald McDonald House for the first 18 months Manny was at NMC. Later she spent a few weeks in a shelter before the staff there referred her to The Salvation Army, which provided transitional housing, helped her learn how to budget, and then later helped her apply for a Section 8 voucher and move into a house.
Today, eight years after he made his precarious journey from Oklahoma to Omaha, Manny is healthy and thriving. Sandra’s oldest son eventually moved to Omaha, and she now has two more boys, ages five and 19 months. Sandra is pursuing a nursing degree at Metropolitan Community College and hopes to work at NMC when she graduates.
Sandra first used the food pantry when she lived in transitional housing in the former Methodist Hospital building on Cuming Street. With four growing boys, Sandra still utilizes the pantry at The Salvation Army Burrows Center, and over the years, she and her boys have grown close to the staff.
“The Salvation Army has seen me through a lot of hard times and a lot of really depressing times. But they have always been here for me and have always encouraged me,” said Sandra. “I still have more goals I want to accomplish, like finishing my degree and not depending on food stamps, but we are moving forward. The Salvation Army helped us get to where we are today.”