A Family’s Loyalty in Making Ends Meet

(Story told to Foodbank employee by 14-year Maria – a visitor to the Kroger Community Pantry)

Last summer, I walked down to our pantry, something I do often, to make sure that I’m staying close to the client — trying to learn from, and share with, each other.

Upon arrival, I noticed a teenager who was helping her mother push their grocery cart.  I started chatting her up and was really impressed w/ her poise, confidence, how she articulated things, and most of all – her constant attention to her mom.   Maria, so-so proud of her family—told me that she had (2) siblings, mom, dad, and now her nana and papa (her mom’s parents) who live in their home – a total of 7.  She also said that she didn’t get to see her dad as much as she wanted because he worked a full time AND a part time job so that mom could stay home, take care of the kids and her aging parents.

It so happened on the very same day, the Foodbank had received a load of fresh, juicy peaches – straight from the farmer’s field. I encouraged Maria to bag up a bunch of the peaches to take home.  She was really eager to do so! I tossed one to her – to have a tasty snack while she was shopping with mom.

And then I was stunned — because Maria said “no” – she couldn’t take and eat the peach I offered.  I tried again, and again she politely said “no” and added — because it’s not my day to eat!”  You see, each member in Maria’s family had an assigned day that they simply did not eat.  Maria explained that it was her family’s strategy to miss a day of eating to stretch their grocery budget.  Each and every one in the family was steadfast in their pledge to the plan and to each other. I couldn’t help it – my tears got the best of me. And it was Maria who told me “not to worry” — her family would make sure they saved one for her the following day.  It was this beautiful, courageous, loved 14-yr old that was comforting me. 

To this day, I cannot truly enjoy a plump, juicy, tasty peach without thinking of my friend – Maria.

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WHEN LIFE THROWS A CURVEBALL

One of our neighbors is a young family who turned to a pantry for the first time ever in March. Kelly never believed she would need help from other people to feed her kids, but a $500 electric bill in her mailbox meant otherwise. 

Kelly, her husband, and two small children ages 2 and 5, had recently moved into military housing in Columbus. The place was drafty but they kept the heat set low and plugged up the cracks. 

When the temperatures plunged below zero and stayed there for days at a time, Kelly’s stomach sunk just knowing the bill would be too high. When the bill arrived in the mail, she was shocked. “We just didn’t have enough savings.  It wiped us out, and left very little for food.”

Luckily for Kelly and thousands like her, our community refused to let our neighbors go hungry.  Support from people like you meant that she could visit a nearby pantry and get fresh, wholesome food for her family.  She was able to bring home fruits and vegetables, meat, even milk!

After Kelly’s first visit to a pantry, she was feeling better about their situation.  She still expected another budget-killing bill from the utility company, but this time she knew that it wouldn’t mean her kids would suffer. The local pantry with its wonderful volunteers is there to help as long as they need it. 

“Just knowing the food pantry is here makes it easier. I don’t know what we would have done without the help.”

This is true for many Ohio families and individuals. Folks are doing their best, working hard, raising kids, paying bills, living their lives, and suddenly life throws them a curveball. Maybe it’s a blown transmission. Maybe it’s a cough that turns into a serious health issue. Sometimes it’s a polar vortex.

Changing Habits When You Can’t Afford Produce

A diabetes diagnosis comes with a strict set of instructions for managing the disease. Shae wanted to follow the doctor’s advice, but she just didn’t know how she would afford it. Luckily, a combination of family support and food from Mid-Ohio Foodbank are helping her make those changes.

Shae has struggled ever since leaving an abusive relationship. She left with what she could fit in her car. Since then her health has been her greatest concern. She’s had thyroid surgery and is saving up to afford much-needed dental surgery.

After overcoming so much, the diabetes diagnosis knocked her for a loop. She explained, “It was really hard to change my habits because I couldn’t afford what they told me to eat.” The answer came when she learned about Mid-Ohio Foodbank’s Produce Markets. These markets are held with partner agencies to provide fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods to low-income families and individuals. Shae’s daughter takes her to the markets – sometimes taking time off work to get her mother the help she needs.

Shae is working hard to get her health in order so she can be self-sufficient someday soon. She dreams of a life where she’s healthy, working a job that pays the bills and allows time for her art, and can help her daughters out.  

When Life Takes a Turn

At this point in their lives, Frank and Mildred should be planning all the wonderful things they want to do in their retirement. Frank is 6 months from receiving his social security and retirement benefits and Mildred only has two and a half years before she can as well. But even the best laid plans don’t always work out.

They have worked all their lives. Mildred loved her work as a dental assistant. Frank was a wedding photographer. Mildred would assist him with weddings on the weekends. She shared, “The days were long, but you got to be part of one of the best moments of people’s lives.” Then the industry changed.  “When the economy took a turn, the calls died off,” Frank said.

He did all kind of work. He drove a tow truck, worked in a warehouse, and even tried his hand at driving a school bus.

Mildred worked for 26 years for the same dentist. At first the benefits were great – health insurance and a 401k, but as expenses rose, benefits were cut. Then the final blow, the dentist sold the practice.

Mildred was told that nothing would change, but that was not true. Within a few months, the new dentist sold the practice to a corporately-managed chain. Suddenly Mildred’s work was entirely different. She would work 10 – 11 hour days with no breaks, but still not be allowed to get over 30 hours a week. The work took a toll. According to Frank, “I hated to see her come home crying. Her career should have ended on a high note instead of in misery.” Frank convinced her to leave the job and preserve her health and mental well-being.

 

Now they find themselves struggling to keep it together. 

Laura, a Foodbank employee, met the couple when they visited a local food pantry. Frank reached out to see if they could get some help and was told to come shop.  “We used to drop food off here,” Mildred told Laura. 

I asked Frank how they were going to make ends meet.  “We’re learning to live on less and trying to be very smart.” They withdrew some of their retirement funds, and are now counting every penny.

Luckily for the couple, they did qualify for some extra help. “We paid into the system our whole lives.  Being able to access Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps) is the difference between making it and not making it. We’re blessed.”

There has been one unexpected highlight to their new situation.  “We appreciate everything more these days. Time together, sharing a meal, all the things that didn’t seem as special when money wasn’t so tight.”

We believe that Frank and Mildred are going to make it.  We believe that because they are doing everything they can and, even more so, because they have friends they don’t even know making sure they don’t go hungry.

Xander: It’s Not in The Budget

Xander’s nickname is X-man, and he loves X-Men comic book characters.  To pass time while his parents visited the Kroger Community Pantry, Xander drew pictures of his favorite characters.  

 

Xander’s dad recently lost his job and his family has been trying to catch up with all of the monthly bills.  There just isn’t enough money to pay everything, so, they visited the Kroger Community Pantry to help them get by.  Xander’s mom was most excited to get some orange juice.  “It just isn’t in the budget to get him juice, but he loves it,” she said.

 

Every X-Man needs nutritious foods to grow up healthy and strong and the Kroger Community Pantry is there to help families like Xander’s when times get tough.

 

Summary:  After his dad lost his job, Xander’s family visited the Kroger Community Pantry to help stretch their monthly budget.  Xander’s mom was most excited to get some orange juice.  “It just isn’t in the budget to get him juice, but he loves it,” she said.