Working With Hunger: the New Reality

28/Nov/16 / 18:08

by Bernie Beaudreau


On a visit last week to one of our bi-monthly GROW Up With Good Nutrition program sites, I met Anna, a married mother of five.


Her family is among what is often described as the “working poor.” It seems a contradiction to put those words together, but in many cases, the “working class” finds it harder than ever to sustain a living wage.


In Connecticut and across the nation, working families earn too little to make ends meet. Households struggle to make rent, pay utilities, cover car expenses and put enough nutritious food on the table. Family food budgets are often the first to be cut, reducing both the amount and quality of food in many households and putting people in situations of food insecurity and hunger.


Anna is one of 21 adults participating in the six-month nutrition education and fresh foods distribution program supported by a multi-year grant from Stop and Shop. She attends the program and food distribution on our GROW Truck at a site in Derby.


Anna, the mother of five girls, lost her job in September. She was a medical assistant and phlebotomist at a local hospital earning $14 an hour on a per diem basis with no benefits. “I loved my job.  It was the worst day of my life when I had to tell my girls I lost my job,” she said.


Anna’s husband works two part-time jobs, one for 24 hours each week as a janitor at a library, earning $21.20 per hour, and the other for 25 to 30 hours each week at a popular home supplies store, earning $13 an hour. “My girls never see their father.  He’s always working,” she told me. A recent study has determined that the average survival budget for a Connecticut family of four people is just below $65,000 per year. Anna’s family of seven people struggles on an income of $45,000. Thirty-five percent of all Connecticut households struggle to support themselves.


“It’s been really hard,” Anna shared. It was a good feeling being self-sufficient and not asking or relying on help from anyone. But literally, overnight, it could happen to you.”


The family’s income makes it eligible for SNAP (“food stamps”) benefits. Anna told me that it took 45 days after applying on line for her to finally receive $150 monthly SNAP benefits, for which she is grateful. But the process was frustrating and stressful. “It has been an awful experience. We applied in September and didn’t receive any help until mid-November,” she told me. But covering meals for seven on a budget of less than $200 is not her only problem.


One of Anna’s daughters has epilepsy and requires anti-seizure medication, which the family can no longer afford. She called HUSKY, Connecticut’s low-income health insurance program for children, and they originally gave her an appointment for mid-December, but have since pushed the appointment back further. Anna is very worried for her child, and angry and frustrated at the system.


The family’s one functional car is usable only for short drives due to a problem they can’t afford to fix.


Anna learned about our GROW program when her husband saw a program flyer on the wall at the library where he works. In her second week in the program, Anna is very pleased by the information provided in the half hour class and very happy with the fresh foods that she collects on the GROW truck – a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, rice, meats, milk and a few personal hygiene items. “Today we learned about chia seeds. I’m going to try making some smoothies,” she said.


Anna expressed gratitude for the nutrition and food preparation tips and the wonderful supply of food for her family’s Thanksgiving celebration. She said she worries that after the program ends she will not be able to feed her kids. I told her that we would give her a listing of member agency food assistance programs in the Derby area.


I recorded a few minutes of Anna’s story, which can be heard in her own words here.


I worry that there are so many families like Anna’s in need across our state that our resources will be not be enough, that people will be left in line without getting the help they need. But I am confident that as our food and funding donors hear about the needs of people like Anna, they will rise to the challenge and support the Connecticut Food Bank and our network of member programs bringing food assistance to all the people in our communities facing the grinding pressures of poverty, food insecurity and hunger.