Running on Low
Last year, when asked what Thanksgiving might look like for her and her family, Laura’s response is not what you might expect for a family with four kids. “We’ll try to save everything we can,” she said, “but it will probably be mashed potatoes, maybe some fruit, and a turkey if we’re lucky.” It might not be the full, traditional spread most people are used to, but she hoped it would be a little something different to mark the holiday for her family. This trend of saving and stretching has been the reality for Laura and her husband for the past year, since just before her sister recommended she utilize the Food Bank’s services. Around that time, Laura was beginning to show signs of health issues. Soon after, she was diagnosed with several debilitating illnesses, making it impossible for her to continue working. In addition, her son’s autism required that she spend more time with him at home, eventually leading to her unemployment.
However, with Laura out of work and four kids to feed, her husband had to secure a second job. In spite of his workload, they began to struggle with meeting the families basic needs. Laura describes herself as a “do-it-yourself person”, so asking for, and accepting help, was difficult for her. On the most challenging days, she would often go without food to ensure that her kids were able to eat; sometimes sustaining herself with just a protein shake. In the hardest of times, she says the easiest thing to do is make lots of rice and to add soup to meals to make food stretch.
A recent Hunger study found that 7 in 10 households report having to choose between paying for food and other necessities like gas and utilities. Laura echoed this statistic saying that they rarely have enough money for both food and gas, requiring them to walk most places or to not leave at all. This means not doing things like spending holidays with family because they can’t afford the gas. Laura said that they often have to stretch the money for electricity and other utilities, leaving lights off in the house and instead using flashlights at night to save every penny to ensure her kids do not go hungry. Another statistic states that half of food insecure clients water down food or drinks in order to make them last longer. Laura agrees that this is a tactic used in their family, adding water to the milk to make it last, as well as eating meals comprised mostly of pancakes and spaghetti.
Laura expressed her frustration at not being able to do more on her own to provide food for her family, saying that when she lived in the countryside there was more available ground for growing food. However, since the family has had to relocate to a trailer community, gardens are not allowed. They try and grow some foods inside the trailer, but this cannot be relied on for large amounts of fresh food. When she thinks of all the good the Food Bank has done for her family, especially in the case of fresh food, she is grateful. She is able to get the foods that provide essential nutrition for her and her family, knowing that although it will still be tough, it won’t be impossible.
Looking to the future, Laura does not see the situation as permanent. Although her health issues are serious, she says that she is “still trying” and is “not going to let it put [her] in a box.” An obviously strong, empowered woman, she says that “disability just means I have more to overcome.” She looks forward to the day when they will be able to afford a place of their own, nothing fancy, but something that is just theirs. Her husband used to be a carpenter, and Laura says they will fix whatever they need if they find something they can afford. “This is only a season,” she insists, knowing that someday her family will not have to rely on the Food Bank. For now, she is thankful the Food Bank is there to help her in this time. This Thanksgiving, they will not go without.