By MARTHA IRVINE
AURORA, Ill. (AP) a¿¿ Down the road from an emergency food pantry where a small crowd waits for the chance to gather free groceries, there is a church sign that reads: "If you need help, ask God. If you don't, thank God."
Debbie Jurcak, one of those in line, will tell you that it is indeed divine help a¿¿ or, anyway, faith-based organizations a¿¿ that she and her family have relied on in recent weeks. Late last month, the federal government ended her unemployment benefits, six months after she was laid off from an administrative job.
Having passed that six-month mark, she had joined the ranks of the "long-term unemployed," a growing group of more than 1.3 million Americans for whom Congress recently declined to extend benefits. It is a label that Jurcak, a former teacher with two master's degrees, never expected would apply to her.
"It's not something you want to go around talking about all the time. I think a lot of people don't share what the depth of their need is," the 43-year-old mother of three said, wiping tears from underneath her glasses as she waited for her turn at the West Suburban Community Pantry, outside Chicago.
"But ... there's no room for pride," she added, "because we all come to a point in our life a¿¿ whether it's financial reasons, or medical reasons, or mental health reasons, or whatever they are a¿¿ where you recognize your need for help."
Turns out, Jurcak is one of the lucky ones, or so she hopes. After months applying for jobs, she learned just days after her visit to the pantry, that she got a customer service job, which she starts this week. It's only temporary for now and the pay is modest. But if she proves herself, there's a good chance she'll be hired permanently, she said.