My name is Neal Dlin and Barbara Pinchuk was my mother and my hero.
My brother, sister and I were raised single handedly by our late mother. While married to our father, she was the one who took care of us while he worked and then, when they divorced, she continued to raise us on her own. Not an uncommon story these days.
However, there is more.
Shortly after our parents' separation, they went bankrupt. With no money or support, our mother collected whatever we had left, packed it into our station wagon and drove across the country, 3 children in tow, from Calgary to Toronto, to start life anew.
For the rest of my childhood, my mother managed to give us a good life despite having no money or close family in the city to help with our upbringing and despite being unable to work for many years (which I will explain in a bit). When I think about that, when I try to imagine what that was like, I shudder in awe. I am sure we have all had our moments with our kids (or nieces, nephews, cousins) where we know how hard parenting can be. Imagine that with three kids and absolutely no reprieve from anyone. Now imagine that without any money. My mother literally sacrificed her life for ours.
In spite of the hardship, she not only provided us with a life...but a good one. A home filled with love and happiness. Those who did not know us well had no idea, due in large part to her incredible effort to shield us. Our mother was an Unsung Hero.
Imagine not knowing how you are going to feed, clothe and put a roof over your children’s heads. Can you? Put yourself there for a second if you will. Imagine having to say no when they ask you about camp and other activities their friends are doing. Imagine not being able to ensure you have all the supplies you need even to maintain your religious faith (in our case, Jewish), celebrate holidays and attend services. Can you?
She had all the tricks and systems to shield us from our poverty. Whether it was buying dented discounted cans, day old bread, cutting and using just about every coupon there was, buying the weekly door crasher special in bulk and freezing it (in a large freezer she kept in her room in our subsidized apartment) to never buying herself anything (for many years I recall bugging her about why she only had two pairs of pants...if I had only known).
True story. I distinctly remember there being a sale one day at Shoppers. They were trying to get rid of some individual shampoos in foil packaging. The deal was a set price for as much as you can grab in one hand. My sister managed to grab close to 100 of these foil packs. Back at home my mother sat for hours, emptying them all into empty shampoo and mouthwash containers (so it would feel more like using regular shampoo to us). Of course, several months later, our mother had forgotten that she had reused an empty mouthwash bottle for the shampoo. Not to worry though, she was reminded when she started to gargle! I can't remember another time in my life where we laughed so hard. So while the story may seem dire to some, it was just a part of our very happy home.
Of course, doing all this does not come without a price. As I mentioned before, our mother could nor work for a few years as everything had taken quite a toll on her and she would struggle a great deal with depression and weight. She was counselled by some great therapists, one of whom, a woman named Shirley Feld, would become a dear friend.
It was not unusual for our mother to make loyal friends. Her warm and generous soul impacted everyone she interacted with.
It's important to know our mother was also no stranger to Leukemia which took her father's life. There is much more to say about how this shaped her life but I will save that for another day. However, it's relevant as to how we chose our three charity pillars that Unsung Heroes supports in her name.
Poverty (with a focus on sending kids to summer camp)
Our mother was an Unsung Hero and she inspired me to build Unsung Heroes Productions. In addition to raising money for charity, we hope to keep a conversation going and to celebrate all Unsung Heroes out there who do this every day and feel like they have no help or even hope. In doing so, we will keep her legacy alive.
Neal Dlin, Founder and Artistic Producer