Helping Hands: Clients
People from all walks of life come through the open doors of Harvest House, Second Harvest's on-site food pantry. Last summer we met Vatterott College student, Justin, as he looked over blueberries and strawberries. Undecided on his major, Justin dreamed of a career as a massage therapist. The backpack he hauled was heavy, but the burdens he carried were much more draining. Justin told the story of a once charmed life. With a military family up-bringing, he rarely had a care in the world besides adjusting to a new school. "We were well to- do and I took everything for granted," he said. The night we met Justin was his third trip to the pantry and he noted the selection. "The nutrition you can get here is amazing." Justin said he incorporated many of the fresh fruits and vegetables from Harvest House into protein shakes or smoothies. "Thank you," he said. "It's really great what they provide."
The parking lot at Harvest House is full and busy; however, most eyes are drawn to a large group of people hanging out the doors of a mini-van with the music blaring. As I walk over I expect to encounter unruly, disrespectful teenagers. Instead the music immediately lowers and out of the mouth of “babes,” comes thankfulness and kind words. These teens are just trying to pass the time as their mothers are inside, gathering food for their families.
“It's great,” says Debbie, the eldest sibling of a family of seven. “The workers are friendly, helping more than other places in the community. They let you choose your own stuff, items you'll actually use.”
At 18 years-old this soon-to-be high school graduate says, “Thank you a lot. It helps out so much. People don't understand.” Debbie explains her mom has been coming to Second Harvest Community Food Bank for years. “We dread the holidays. If we didn't have this, we wouldn't have Christmas at all.”
To many, Christmas means beautifully wrapped packages and a perfectly decorated holiday tree, but to this family it simply means food to share with one another and togetherness.
Debbie is surrounded by nodding heads as she tells her story. Two sisters, one of which is Debbie's mother, loaded their individual families up in the van today and drove from South St. Joseph to shop. Debbie’s mom, the mother of seven, is a day-care provider, running the business out of her home so she is able to care for her disabled husband who battles cancer. Debbie says her dad refuses a wheelchair, but is very much in need of one.
Sister number two, Debbie's Aunt Joann, found herself in crisis just a short time ago when her husband lost his job. Some of the littlest cousins in the van this day are Joann’s children, five in all. Joann was actually a volunteer of Harvest House for a few months before needing the resources herself.
Joann is thankful for the gracious support of the food pantry as her family returns home to share a meal. “It always works out,” she says.
Five, three and one. Those are the ages of Mike and Donna’s young children. The infant sits on her mom's lap sweating while they wait for the number that means the most right now, their lottery number which will be called soon so they can shop for food. Donna is just 21 years old and Mike is 25, but they have larger-than-life responsibilities at home. Not only do they have children depending on them for basic necessities, they also care for Mike’s disabled mother.
This is the second time the two parents have wandered through the pantry doors in need of assistance. “I do odd end jobs like mowing and tree removal,” Mike says. Despite his efforts, it’s barely enough work and money to get by month to month when the weather is decent, not to mention what they resort to when it's bitterly cold. The pantry allows this young couple meal security and according to them it helps a lot.
Heather walked through our pantry door for the first time in “years and years” she told us. Things had been going pretty well for this single mom of five. That was until her eldest daughter was diagnosed with a mass on her left kidney. Heather now finds herself at home from her full-time job on Family Medical Leave, caring for her sick child. Heather’s concern for the future was evident on her face as we encountered her at the pantry this particular evening.
As she waited in line to look at the day-old baked goods with her children, you could see Heather scan the bin for good choices. “This would go good with jelly,” she said. As this family waits to find out what’s next for their big sister, positivity fills their thoughts. “We like garlic bread, don’t we guys?” Heather asked. She then brainstormed with her kids about all of the meals they could prepare with the items they would be taking home that night.
Childhood poverty is a very real thing. Thirty percent of Second Harvest Community Food Bank’s clients are children under the age of 18.
Mary is only 67 years-old, but her story includes a lifetime of hardships. After retiring from a local factory job where she worked as a computer operator, Mary struggles to make ends meet. Mary depends on her three grown sons to pay her mortgage, provide her with a vehicle and check on her when she is ill. Sitting in the pantry this evening, our senior confesses, “You could survive on this and commodities.”
Many seniors, roughly 36% according to the Census Bureau, have had to choose between buying food and paying for medicine. These numbers are expected to grow significantly as we continue to see higher food, fuel and utility costs.
Second Harvest Community Food Bank strives to help seniors like Mary battle hunger. For example, Mary qualifies for the Senior Box Program. Each month, she receives a box containing 35 pounds of canned protein, juice, vegetables, fruit and cereal. “Some of it is a treat, but I don’t take anything I can’t use,” she says.
A mother who raised three children, now grown and successful; a lifetime worker whose career has come to an end now finds herself dependent on Second Harvest for the very basics. “It’s also nice to have food when the grandkids come around,” she says.
Kristy represents a new kind of client at Second Harvest Community Food Bank. At 26 years- old, just months before deploying to Afghanistan, Kristy was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army with a medical condition and now wants to go back to school.
In the last three months, Kristy’s family of five visited the pantry four times because their SNAP benefits (food stamps) were not enough to buy the basics. “One time they had a big bag of turkey and we made turkey muffins,” says Kristy.
As pantry night wears down, so do the choices. Volunteers see Kristy’s familiar face, and assist her with meal ideas for the items which remain. For this mother and wife, food isn’t her only concern this evening; she also worries about keeping her utilities on as the wind starts to blow colder. Thankfully she says other agencies in St. Joseph are able to assist, along with her mother-in-law who helps pay for the house the family calls home. Kristy says hard times have fallen on her and her family since the birth of her 4 year-old. With a six and ten year-old at home as well, Kristy says she looks at her children as her purpose, but also says, “sometimes I want more.”
You couldn’t miss her if you tried. Leslie sat four rows back in the waiting area of Second Harvest Community Food Bank’s food pantry coddling a brand new baby. Red-faced from crying, two week-old Ryleigh made it known she was hungry. Quickly, Mom located a bottle of formula and found the mouth of the tiny baby. Leslie’s brother-in-law, 12 year-old Dillon, assisted with blankets and burp cloths. This was their first time at the pantry.
Leslie confided they hadn’t needed these services before, but Ryleigh arrived two weeks early and the young family found themselves running out of food stamps and without WIC assistance for another month. The overwhelmed family first asked their primary care physician for help and then turned to the pantry. As Ryleigh sucked on her bottle, Leslie’s eyes darted around the room. She was clearly nervous to find herself waiting in line for food for the first time. As the family made their way through the pantry doors, Leslie’s husband and older daughter joined the group to “shop” for food.