In the wake of the 2008 economic collapse, a number of local organizations rallied together to lift up those who had been knocked down. From their combined efforts, inspiring success stories have emerged, and one of the best belongs to Lake Mary’s Ray Kellogg.
Well-spoken and upbeat, Ray Kellogg conveys a confident and composed demeanor. The 20-year-old certified EMT and fire academy student splits his time between volunteering at the Lake Mary Fire Department and Second Harvest Food Bank, a full-time courseload, and a weekend job at a local car dealership. Ray has a bright future in store for him. Everything is under control. But that was not always the case.
In 2009, Ray found himself in a devastating situation. When his father lost his job, Ray’s family slid into a series of overwhelming losses.
“I was still in middle school,” Ray says. “I remember getting called into the kitchen one night, and my mom and dad sat us down and told us that we had to pack up the house because we had to move out. My dad was a civil engineer at the time, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. When the market crashed, it was hard on his field of work.”
Ray and his older sister were in shock.
“We were being forced out of the house,” he recalls. “It was pretty much a bombshell.”
The family packed what they could, sold what they had to sell, and hurtled toward an unpredictable future. While his sister and mother went to live with family, Ray and his father bounced around, at times staying with friends, occupying a trailer on church property, and once spending a few weeks in a hotel.
“I was in a daze, trying to figure everything out,” Ray says. “My dad worked a lot of jobs; he did anything he could. He would drive me to school, but if he had an interview, or there wasn’t enough gas, sometimes I wasn’t able to get to school. I was living out of a bag.”
Finally, with the help of several local nonprofits, things started to look up.
“My parents were both working, and we were back together,” recalls Ray. “We were able to find a little place that we were renting from a church member. It was around this time when my dad stumbled upon Christian Help.”
A local homelessness-prevention organization, Christian Help connected Ray’s family with Second Harvest Food Bank. As happened so many times in the wake of the Great Recession, community groups united to lift up families in need, and together they brought hope back into the lives of countless men and women like Ray and his family.
“I remember one day coming home from school hungry, and there was a huge box of food,” says Ray. “My dad came home with a birthday cake. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday, but they had a birthday cake, and they gave it to him,” Ray laughs. “We had fruit – a whole bunch of food. We had a pork loin. It was great. When we finally did get back together, we always wanted to eat dinner together, so it was really nice.”
That was the start of the Kelloggs’ return to normalcy. The food they received weekly from Second Harvest sustained them for almost two years.
“We were finally able to catch our breath,” Ray remembers.
Ray went on to graduate from Seminole High School and enrolled in classes to pursue his firefighting certificate. With an EMT certificate under his belt, Ray also signed up to do volunteer ride-alongs with the Lake Mary Fire Department. Things were finally looking up. But on the evening of Ray’s first ride-along, he was met with another serious blow.
Ray learned that his father was suffering from liver cancer and only had months to live.
“I wanted to cancel the ride-along, to be at home with my dad,” Ray says. “But he told me to go and do the ride-along, so I did. It was a blessing.”
Ray postponed school to care for his father, returning to the program when he was able, and he continues volunteering with the fire department.
Fast-forward to today, and Ray is on track to graduate in January with his firefighting certificate, and he is still an active volunteer at the department. He also helps out at Second Harvest, where his mother now works as a grocery alliance manager, helping families who find themselves in an all-too-familiar situation.
“There are a lot of key parts in my life,” says Ray. “Second Harvest was a very large part of my life. There were a lot of great opportunities that happened, and a lot of joy came from Second Harvest when I needed it.”
Ray admits that asking for help is sometimes difficult, but he urges those who need a helping hand to “just go by... you don’t even have to say much. Just talk, and they will help. As my father would say, ‘It’s a hand up, not a handout.’”
Ray doesn’t take the assistance he received for granted. His career choice, which he considers a calling, stems from a need to help others.
“One of the main reasons I’ve stumbled upon this career is because I get so much joy from helping people,” Ray says. “It’s very nice to be on the giving side.”
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