Ask her today, and Tangiler Howard will tell you she’s blessed.
You might not believe it when you hear about her last few years, but she knows it. She knows it, she’s joyful about it, and she’ll gladly let you know that SPiN Cafe plays a blessed part in her story.
Tangiler and her husband moved to Oak Harbor from Louisiana over twenty years ago. After a brief move back home, they came here for good in 2009.
“I had a good job,” she says. “I was District Manager for a restaurant chain, things were good, my husband had a good job. This is my home, and I love this community.”
A few years ago, her health problems started. “I had some trouble with my lungs, and went in for a simple two-hour procedure. The bronchial probe punctured my lung, and a week later they finally let me out of the hospital. They said I was lucky to be alive.”
She might not have felt so lucky then; she couldn’t work, so her husband became the sole provider. They struggled financially while her health continued to degrade.
Tangiler went through two knee surgeries, developed arthritis in her hands and scoliosis in her spine, and still gets regular treatments for low iron levels on top of ongoing physical therapy.
While this whirlwind of medical issues tossed her life around, one more gust hit her when she separated from her husband.
“I was about to be on the street, disabled, with nowhere to go,” she says, “then I got a roommate. I thought that would work out, and it did, for a few months, until she stopped paying rent with the money I gave her, and we both got evicted.”
That was a year ago in April, and Tangiler was desperate.
“See that man over there? See the look on his face?” Tangiler nods at a guest across the room at SPiN. “That’s how I felt. No hope, no money, not even a place to sleep.”
A counselor told Tangiler about SPiN, and she showed up just hoping for a warm meal and a place to get out of the rain. She got way more than that.
Through SPiN, she connected with The Haven, Oak Harbor’s overnight shelter. She at least had a safe place for the night.
She also found a network of friends, people who supported her, people who treated her with simple dignity.
“Anyone who walks in here hungry, they’re served a meal at their table. This is no soup kitchen, this is a place where hungry people are treated as guests for dinner,” Tangiler says with a little pride in her voice. “I grew up in the South, in a family that loved to cook, and since our culture was so diverse, we loved all kinds of food. I learned to cook when I was 12, and maybe that’s why SPiN Cafe just seemed so much like home to me.”
After a few months of spending days at SPiN and nights at The Haven, Tangiler scored a space in transitional housing. Money was still tight as she was unable to work full time due to her health.
Then this past winter, SPiN was looking for a cook and they asked Tangiler if she was interested. It was just a couple days a week, a few hours per shift. She jumped at the chance.
“There were other places I could work that might pay me more money or give me more hours, but I felt like I owed it to SPiN for helping me out. And I’m passing along all the help I got, all the chances SPiN and The Haven gave me, to our guests. I can cook anything, I love to cook something new for people. I only make one exception. No wild animals. No deer. Gator? Snake? Nope. That’s where I draw the line.”
Reality will come calling after another year and a half, when her contract ends with her transitional housing provider. But until then she’s making the most of her chance.
One more happy piece of Tangiler’s life? “I started going to church,” she says with her biggest smile yet.
Sundays find her right next door to SPiN, at The Word of Everlasting Life and Faith.
“It was a cold morning, the Haven van dropped me off, and there were people going in for church. That’s when I realized it was Sunday.”
“I just wanted to get in out of the rain,” she laughs, “and I’ve been stuck there ever since.”
Tangiler’s life reminds us how close many of us are to losing everything. It’s easy to take our good fortune for granted, and when that slender thread breaks, the bottom falls out, and we need a little help, it’s wonderful to know our community is here to get people back on their feet.
What’s in the future?
“Nothing but up,” says Tangiler. “I’m moving forward, and thanks to SPiN, I’m moving up.”