Connecticut Food Bank supporter Bethany Johnson lives with her husband Erik in affluent Old Greenwich. The lively 30-something donor teaches history at several New York State colleges, has run her own non-profit, and has always been passionate about food. Meeting her, you would never know that Bethany faced hunger on a daily basis. But growing up in the rust belt city of Syracuse, New York, Bethany, along with her parents and younger sister, suffered from food insecurity and lived on welfare until she was seven. It was these life experiences that inspired Bethany to donate to Connecticut Food Bank.
Bethany’s upbringing belies the stereotype of food-insecure families: both of her parents worked full-time – “under-employed” would describe their plight.
“I grew up relatively poor,” Bethany said, “although I saw people who were worse-off than we were.” This was the reason her mother gave for refusing the two sisters request to join their school’s breakfast program. “My mom would say, ‘You girls have something to eat for breakfast. You’d be taking food from kids who have nothing.’”
As a child, Bethany was bused to a public school in an affluent area, an hour away. At school, the wealth gap had become obvious for the first time.
“We grew up next to the projects in Syracuse,” she recalls, “and lived near crushing poverty. So we felt relatively okay, since both of my parents worked full-time and we could usually pay our bills.” At the new school, it was the clothes worn and the lunches brought to school by other students that revealed the wealth gap. When she was 15, her mother received an inheritance: The family purchased a new refrigerator, a car, a Costco membership, and Bethany’s mother bought the girls clothes from the mall for the very first time. “I would go to friends’ homes after school and marvel at their full refrigerators, and also the variety of foods they had. But friends just didn’t come visit my home. Not only would I not invite them, but their parents simply wouldn’t drive into our neighborhood.”
While attending Nyack College, Bethany worked in restaurants. The hours were flexible for students, but it also guaranteed a meal during her shift.
These days, Bethany retains the values and thriftiness instilled by her parents and her lean years growing up. She is an avid coupon-clipper – a skill honed by her mother (“the queen of coupons,” Bethany said), who could spend three hours grocery shopping for the best bargains. While she prefers to give cash to Connecticut Food Bank, she donates to food drives, where she gives food purchased through “extreme couponing.”
“No one should be hungry in this country,” Bethany said. “People out there need help. If no one cared that I was hungry, I would still be hungry today. Erik and I are in a position to help, and we are very glad to support Connecticut Food Bank in its mission.”