Losing Grasp On The American Dream

This is the first part in a Hitting Home series called "The Other America."

That anyone would be struggling in picture-perfect Gloucester, Mass., seems difficult to imagine. But, looks can be deceiving.

"Well, what I've learned is that not everyone 'looks' needy," said Lisa Castellucci. "You never know."

And she should know. Castellucci might not look needy, but she is.

She's allowed to come every 14 days to the Cape Ann Food Pantry, where she gets donated food - a far cry from the days when she used to give.

"When you donated before, did you ever really have an appreciation for what it was like to receive?" CBS News correspondent Seth Doane asked her.

"No, to be honest, I think I gave my leftovers, pretty much," she said.

Not so long ago, Lisa and her husband, David, were living the American Dream - their own home, their own business, three kids and another on the way.

"Our fourth child we named Hope, because our only hope that we have left is from God - and if we lose that, we're done … because that's all we have, for real," Lisa said.

Poverty was not part of their plan.

Doane visited the family's former business with David, who had inherited a successful auto-body shop. But as the local economy suffered, his costs went up, and business dropped.

"It wasn't real; it wasn't real that I was losing everything I had invested," he said.

He fell tens of thousands of dollars into debt - and was forced to shut down. With no money coming in, the Castelluccis drained their own IRAs and all of the money they'd saved up for their kids, and went looking for help.

"I mean, it was humbling for me to get food stamps … humbling," David said. "I thought only really poor people needed food stamps, and then I started realizing, well, I'm a really poor person."

He also went looking for a job, but it took five months to get one.

As a father, as a provider, David said he felt, "Inadequate. Absolutely inadequate."

Learn more about this series - and the Castelluccis' situation - at Couric & Co.
Also, if you'd like to learn how to help this family or others, send us and e-mail and we'll tell you how.
Sometimes embarrassed, certainly humbled, Lisa started keeping a journal.

"Not only did I sell every piece of clothing of my own - but every piece of clothing that I could sell of my children's' clothes," Lisa had written in her journal.

It happened so fast that home improvements were halted right in the middle of the job - a blanket hanging on the stairwell is their attempt to keep in the heat.

And when she's out on the street, Lisa will even pick up cans off the street for the deposit money.

"It's not like they're dirty - the cans are right there. So I just throw them in my bag and that was another $3. But, it's really tough. When I make our deposits, I just gather up whatever pennies and everything else I can find and I deposit it and I pay the bills little by little. And it's tough and it's humbling."

David got a new job as a service technician for a copier company. He makes $40,000 a year. That might sound like a lot - but with a family of six and plenty of leftover debt, they're nowhere near out of the woods.

"In a lot of ways, I think that we've grown closer as a family because of this situation. Not that I've enjoyed it," he said. "I wouldn't recommend it for anybody."

Wouldn't recommend it - and prays for a future when poverty is just part of his past.

Since this piece aired, CBS News, the Castellucci family and their local food pantry have all gotten a tremendous outpouring of support. Check back right here for some of the reaction. In the meantime, you can leave a comment or send an e-mail with your thoughts. Also, check out CBS News affiliate WBZ's report about the affect of this piece.