Food insecurity can hit people from all different walks of life. It often only takes one unforeseen incident to throw our well established rhythm off its course and into a downward spiral. That’s when the support from family and friends but also from the community a person lives in can make all the difference. Our team at the SLO Food Bank works relentlessly to provide and upkeep a safety net for people experiencing tough times because nutrition should never have to be compromised in any situation.
We love getting to know the people we serve and the story of 73-year old Gayle Loretta Noble is a wonderful example of life’s unexpected turns! She has had an active life and enjoys talking about it with such liveliness. Her vigor has not at all faded over the years and even can’t be shaken when having to accept help from others. We got a chance to speak with her when she attended our public food distribution at the Senior Center in Oceano that happens on every 2nd Thursday of the month.
“Growing up, I first learned to see the world through to eyes of a dying man,” Gayle starts out. Her grandfather, who raised her on his ranch in the San Fernando Valley, died after battling cancer for seven years. “The doctors initially gave him only three months, but he was determined to teach me his natural way of life,” she remembers. Especially the experience of handling and taking care of her grandfather’s horses gave Gayle a life-long passion for animals. One particular situation has played a big role in her profound connection to the natural world. “One of the horses, my constant companion Char, actually saved my life,” she explains. “I had been walking him around the mountains when I slipped and fell off a cliff. When I woke up at the bottom, I saw him staring at me from the top. He then he made his way down to where I was, nudged me and knelt down. I pulled myself up on him and he brought me back home.”
Her more recent encounters with animals involve ravens, squirrels and skunks. Indeed, Gayle’s hair and car are decorated with feathers – a gift from the ravens she says she got from feeding these smart birds pounds of peanuts every day on her property in Santa Cruz that was bordering the Redwood National Park. “I realized that I was taking away the land from the animals, so I decided to give back by feeding them. I used raw peanuts in shells because that’s how they would find them in the wild.” Eventually even the skunks warmed up to her until she had a battalion of 15 of them guarding her house. “They never sprayed me, but when strangers came, they would line up and stomp. I actually never had to lock my door because they were the best security guards I have ever had,” she laughs.
Gayle’s professional life, however, went into a complete different direction. Photographs she took during commutes between San Francisco and Los Angeles earned her a scholarship at an Arts Center in Los Angeles, but thanks to her uncle who served in the U.S. Air Force, she traded this scholarship for another one in aerospace engineering. As a teenager, Gayle used to hang around the Air Force bases and was even allowed to play “guy in back” during trainings. Later on, her uncle would let her take off and land his jets. Impressed by her performance he told her that she would be hired if she was a man – an expression that Gayle took to heart. Since women weren’t allowed to fly jets in the early 60s, she figured that if she designed them, she could manage her way in.
Now, if you think that this was Gayle’s final path, you’re mistaken. While still in college, she landed her first job at the KUSC radio station where she took on the role as an all-night DJ. As she was fixing a transmitter one day, the man assisting her encouraged her to get licensed and that in turn secured her additional jobs at other radio stations. Gayle soon realized that she had a hand for computers. Together with her college degree, she turned that talent into programming and eventually ended up writing defense codes for the U.S. military.
You might wonder by now how Gayle ended up in San Luis Obispo County at one of our food distributions. This is the part of Gayle’s story where things out of our control bring us into situations that do not fit in with the rest of our life. Gayle has moved here half a year ago because her husband Jim has spent all the money after suffering from several strokes that damaged his brain. “I didn’t stop him because I just wanted him to be happy as there wasn’t much left of his world,” Gayle says. Jim died in April 2017. Gayle did not want to leave her beloved property in Santa Cruz but she had to give all her horses to other homes and is now trying to sell the house. Her three kids, all homeschooled, have long moved out. One daughter lives in Santa Barbara and the other one here in San Luis Obispo. Her son and oldest child, who is paying all her bills right now, is planning on moving her to his place in Austin in a couple of months.
Her days now revolve around taking care of her dog Wally. “He was found wandering around San Luis Obispo about five years ago. Since his owner couldn’t be found, my daughter took him in, but she doesn’t have the time any more to take care of him since he’s so needy,” she notes in a loving tone as she pets him. “I love him. He’s the only dog I’ve ever had that doesn’t eat everything in sight. He waits until you feed it to him.”
Gayle is now focusing more on keeping herself healthy by taking vitamins and dietary supplements. And we are happy that she has also decided to use our services as well to fill her kitchen and her body with healthy, nutritious food!
If you know anyone whose story you think we should highlight, please contact us here. We are looking forward to your suggestions!
– By Luise Gleason, Marketing & Communications Coordinator