Jessie would much rather have been volunteering at Tom’s Turkey Drive than standing in line to receive one of the donated Thanksgiving meals. Giving back to the community is her passion. But right now, she’s just trying to put food on the table for her husband and their 16-year-old son.
Jessie has a vision of bringing the community together through her own event planning business. She’s done some event coordinating in the past three years and dreams of doing more. “I think if we can come together as a society, we can better understand each other as a society. Creating community events will create a better community,” she said.
While giving back fills Jessie up and provides her a sense of fulfillment, it doesn’t fill her up financially, and that’s been a challenge.
Jessie’s husband works full time as a supervisor at a manufacturing company. He’s been there for 17 years. Jessie currently works seasonally as a brand ambassador. She’s off in the winter, which means a smaller income for her family. But even with two incomes, it’s hard to provide enough nutritious food to keep the family properly nourished every day.
Now 34, Jessie has been with her husband since she was 15. Since that time, she has seen the cost of living increase and become unaffordable. Her budget has become tighter and tighter, eventually causing her family to experience homelessness. During those times, she and her husband lived in their car while their son stayed with family.
“Minimum wage isn’t a livable wage anymore. Seven-hundred dollars for rent on minimum wage would not leave much for anyone afterward, especially if you don’t have savings.” Jessie and her husband both make more than minimum wage, but with the high cost of living, they haven’t been able to accumulate any savings. “We don’t have two pennies to rub together,” said Jessie.
With winter’s arrival, Jessie will see the family budget even further stressed. Their house is poorly insulated, so their heating bill is high. No one in her family has a winter coat. They haven’t been able to afford them.
On their tight budget, Jessie and her family have become well acquainted with hunger. “We’ve been through rough times and hard times when we’ve literally had nothing but the food bank. Noodles, corn and peas to make meals with,” she said. “Sometimes we have a hard week where it’s just before payday and all the bills are paid and everything’s good in the house, but what’s for dinner tonight might be a guess and a hit or miss.”
She might not always know where her next meal is coming from, but Jessie is clear about one thing: her son always eats first.
“Children need the food to grow … So if I’m hungry, then I’m sure that my teenage son is hungry. So I just make sure that there’s enough food in the house that he can eat, and if we can eat, then that’s a positive … We more worry about our son going hungry than us going hungry.”
Jessie’s sacrifice often comes at the cost of her ability to focus on everyday tasks. “Your brain when you’re hungry, it just kind of starts to turn into mush, and you can’t really carry on a conversation at times. You can’t focus on the things you need to do to live everyday life. Being able to function as a mother when you’re hungry kind of gets a little challenging because our brains are mush, and coffee doesn’t always work. Hangry is a very real thing.”
While her husband is at work and her son at school, Jessie goes to Second Harvest Mobile Markets to get food for her family. These free farmers’ market style distributions give Jessie and her family fresh ingredients to cook with—apples, onions, squash, potatoes, carrots, beef and more.
Jessie has even been able to share the food she’s received at a recent Mobile Market with neighbors. Several families in her neighborhood share food when they have an abundance of something, as many of them face similar financial struggles.
While right now Jessie struggles to put food on the table, she hopes to be the one handing food to people in need one day soon. “I feel blessed by the community to be able to benefit from (the Mobile Market). It’s very humbling, and I’m appreciative of that. We all need help sometimes, and I wish I could do more,” she said. “My hope is, this time next year, to be helping as a volunteer at something like this and donating to it and creating an event that allows something like this to come to our community.”
You can help put food on the table for people like Jessie. Learn how you can help.