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Published: Sunday, 10/30/2011

Suburban mom puts up brave front for son

Metro Toledo resident grateful impoverished state is largely invisible

BY TONY COOK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Amy Sperry says no child should have to worry about whether his home has electricity. Amy Sperry says no child should have to worry about whether his home has electricity.
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Amy Sperry pushed the buttons on the electronic keypad next to her garage door, but it did not move. She tried again. Nothing.

That's when she thought of her 12-year-old son, sitting in the passenger seat of her idling car, watching her. They had just returned from football practice. She tried again, her hand trembling uncontrollably, because she knew what was happening. The electricity had been shut off.

She explained the situation to her son, then drove to her mother-in-law's house 20 minutes away in Perrysburg to spend the night. It was a school night, there would be logistics to work out, but that's not what consumed her mind during the drive.

"He should never have to worry about that," Ms. Sperry, 41, said, recalling that day this fall. "No child should."

Many parents are hesitant to state such thoughts publicly. They don't like to consider the ramifications their impoverished states have on their children.

But the truth is that such situations are becoming increasingly common.

In the city of Toledo, more than one in three children live below the federal poverty level, according to the most recent census estimates. In the the metropolitan area, one in four children live in poverty.

It's a largely invisible problem.

Unless you saw Ms. Sperry struggle with her garage door opener, you would never know anything was wrong. Her home is in one of the city's nicer suburbs, across from a country club, and her son plays football for a local middle school.

You wouldn't know that the Sperrys lease the house from her parents at a below-market rate, and when you see her carrying groceries into the house, you wouldn't know that they come from a local food pantry.

But on the inside, the picture is much bleaker.

Ms. Sperry, who has a bachelor's degree in business, is out of work. Her husband of 13 years works as a mechanic for a local car dealership, but only after experiencing a bout of unemployment himself. It's not uncommon for the $30 in Ms. Sperry's wallet to constitute the family's entire savings until her husband gets his next paycheck.

On one hand, Ms. Sperry is not shy about sharing her story. But on the other, she is grateful for appearances -- at least for her son's sake.

When he knocks someone down on the football field, no one knows that his school waived his player fees. And when he stands in the lunch line, no one knows he's getting his lunch at no charge.

Sometimes, Ms. Sperry said, the only way to ease her anxiety is to remind herself that her son's poverty probably bothers her more than it does him.

"He's an old soul," she said. "He's seen us do well and he's seen us fall."



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