In Chapter 9 of Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal meets Gloria Dump for the first time when Winn-Dixie runs off into her yard. Opal must make her way through Gloria's tangled yard to find him, and when she does, she sees he is licking peanut butter off of her fingers. Opal describes Gloria as an old woman with "crinkly brown skin"; she is wearing a "big floppy hat with flowers all over it." Because Opal has no one else to talk to, she tells Gloria all about her life, including her sorrows concerning her missing alcoholic mother. Gloria becomes a very important character because she gives Opal a lesson about judgement and even becomes the catalyst for the climax of the story because it is in her yard that a party is thrown, bringing all of the lonely characters in the story together as friends.
By Chapter 14, Opal begins going to visit Gloria every day. Opal has also started working at Gertrude's Pet Store sweeping up the floor in order to earn money to buy Winn-Dixie a nice collar and leash. While at the pet store, she learns that Otis, the shy man who works behind the counter, was once in jail. Feeling concerned, she tells Gloria about it and asks, "Do you think I should be afraid of him? ... For doing bad things, I guess. For being in jail." In response, Gloria takes Opal out to the very back of her yard to show her a "big old tree" which has all sorts of alcohol bottles hanging from its branches. Gloria explains that she hung the bottles on the tree "to keep the ghosts away ... the ghosts of all the things I done wrong."
Gloria further explains that, like Opal's mother, she had once been an alcoholic and had done many "bad things" partially because of the alcohol and partially because she "would've done [them] anyway, with alcohol or without it." She then changed her life once she learned what was important to her. Gloria uses this information as a lesson to show that we can't judge people by what they've done in the past; we can only judge them by what they are doing right now in the present.