Voices in Our Community
Voices of Our Neighbors
Who seeks assistance from the Urbandale Food Pantry? Perhaps you know someone who lost their job, or got divorced, or suffered an unexpected illness or accident. They could be your brother or sister, your aunt or uncle, your mother or father, your child, yourself. They could be your neighbor. In fact, they ARE your neighbors! Listen to the voices of a few of your neighbors. (See also, Re-Think Hunger: The Plates Project)
These first-person stories were edited from recorded interviews with actual Urbandale Food Pantry clients; some of the names are pseudonyms.
Grace, age 37
I grew up in Nairobi. I came to Iowa in 2007. It's just me and my two boys, ages 4 and 22 months.
The Food Pantry has really good bread. This is my third time now, I think. I was here last week and I got the cranberry walnut bread—not that it matters, but it's really good.
I don't get SNAP, but my boys get WIC. They're pre-printed checks with what you can buy. So it's usually things like milk, juice—it has to be 100% juice—peanut butter, whole wheat bread or tortillas. It helps, not necessarily the whole month. Especially with the milk, it really helps because milk is very expensive.
The biggest obstacle is just trying to stretch everything. Milk is the biggest thing, because having two boys.... But like I said, the WIC helps to where at least I don't have to pay as much out of pocket for the milk. I try to give them lots of fruits, lots of veggies, and I'm supposed to actually go get checks from WIC for farmer's market, which helps.
A typical breakfast would be probably eggs and waffles or pancakes, or Maltomeal. There's always eggs because it's protein. And if it's dinner, we eat lots of fish and lots of chicken. Veggies and fruit.
The Food Pantry makes a difference because usually—like the breads that I get, if I was to go to the store, it's like $6 a loaf. And Whole Foods, it's a good store, but it's also out of my price range. So, it makes a difference. And I also got some kale the other day, and I love kale, so that was good. It helps. I can say I've been pretty lucky so far; I haven't had a time in the last few months without food. Having child care would be the biggest thing that would help!
I'm actually in school—I'm going to nursing school. I just graduated from my LPN program in May, and I go back to do my RN. And I work in-home with people with mental disabilities. Some of them have brain injuries. The ones I work with are high-functioning, but I've worked with all sorts of levels of disabilities and stuff.
I hope my children grow up to be productive members of society, cliché as that may sound. And education is key, so I will push that. Because with a good education comes a whole lot of good things. I mean, school is—I can't even emphasize more than that; that's the best way to secure. I know we're in a bad economy and stuff, but at least if you have an education, that cannot be taken away from you. It's not easy. Like me having to juggle two kids and school AND work. That's not an easy task, but it's a sacrifice that has greater rewards in the long run.
Steve, age 58
I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and moved to Iowa in 1975. I've only done part-time work for the last two years, so the Food Pantry is a resource that I utilize to help get extra food. I got let go from the other full-time position.
I come here probably ten times a year. I sometimes miss a couple months. My SNAP assistance is $200 a month; you have to reapply every six months. It doesn't cover my food needs for the whole month.
The biggest obstacle I face in adequately feeding myself is getting a full-time job to go with my part-time job. 'Cause I'm trying to do both. It took eight months just to get the part-time job. I don't want to give up my part-time job; it's got excellent benefits, but it's only 18 hours a week, so that doesn't quite cut it.
I don't eat breakfast; I just got out of the habit years and years ago. I'm pretty much two meals a day. Lunch is usually a sandwich. Dinner could be anything from an omelet to a hamburger and hot dogs or milk. I drink a lot of milk.
If I could find a full-time job that coincides with my part-time job, that would be excellent. That would be the best thing that could happen to me. Like I say, trying to dovetail those two—my shift is like 3:30 to 7:30, I mean, give or take—it's just hard to find a day shift or something for the weekends.
The Food Pantry does fill in the gaps, like today the gallon of milk is huge for me. The washing detergent. I never know what to expect when I come in here, so it just depends. The bread, because I do eat a lot of bread. I eat a lot of sandwiches, and hot dogs and hamburgers. So yeah, that's big. And it lets me use my food stamps for other items.
My advice to someone else would be to just keep at it and use all the resources that are offered to you in the community—the food pantries, the food assistance programs—that's what it's there for. If you're a little bit down on your luck, use it.
You guys are great. Thank you!
Kimberley, age 35
I grew up in California. Currently, it's me, my husband, and our one-year-old daughter. We've been here about a month. We came to Iowa because my husband's brother was in the hospital for some sleep apnea—had a surgery—but when we got here he'd been released from the hospital and no longer needed anybody. So we got stuck!
We've been to the Pantry twice. We're in between and I started my period, and I was just hoping by the grace of God that they might have female products, and they did, thank God. They say during the week you can come pick up free bread and the vegetables they have, so I utilized that this morning, too!
The reason we first got here, they hadn't approved us for SNAP for two months. We didn't have enough food during the application process for the SNAP benefits. We were out of food—literally. And I was hungry. We're in a hotel right now, which is not what I want, but it's one of the better hotels in the area. So my husband went scrapping; he made sure that we got the deposit money for the room, or we would have been asked to leave. There was very little money for anything, so we came up here; one of the neighbors brought us. I ran out of formula, and God bless the ladies here, they said yes, they opened up their cupboard and they gave me a couple of cans. Today was also to come by and thank them for that because I don't know what I would have done.
I make sure I get all my daughter's stuff first, and then they said once a month if necessary, come to the Pantry. They were great—they gave us a big ham that lasted for a couple of weeks. I cut it up in little blocks, put it in pasta, you know—things that spread out.
After I got the formula, it was three days—they gave me my SNAP card. Somebody said, They should have expedited you. And I was like, I don't know. I'm just grateful that it got to us when it could. I went to Wal-Mart and I love their manager's specials—half off of the meat items, which is really great. So I filled everything up for like 200 bucks for a month. I really got to utilize 200 for a month because of the little yellow stickers at Wal-Mart!
When everything's going all right a typical meal will be protein—being red meat—couple side items, whether it be vegetables, potatoes, roll, you know. In rough times: pasta and small quantities of meat, because pasta is really cheap.
They're working on getting me out there to find a job. They fitted me for dentures today, because I had a bicycle accident. Thought I was a boy, tried to do a hop! It hurt quite bad! I want to get employment quick, you know. I mean, I don't want to settle for Burger King. My last wage was at $10/hour, although it was 10 years ago before I got injured. I know I can't expect to do what I did before, so.... I'm just going to try to be choosy, and do what I can. I used to be a public transportation driver. And at the end of the day, I was crying, you know, and they sent me to the doctor and they said it was repetitive motion. I wasn't in no accident, nothing like that. It hurts.
At the time this happened 10 to 11 years ago, I listened to this co-worker, he slipped me this number. He says, just call them. Well, they called me in, they had me sign a paper, and they sent me a $7,000 check. But the coworker didn't take the time to tell me, you ask for this, you make sure you have medical coverage. I didn't hurt until 5 years after the injury. They had given me steroid shots in my spine—up here in the neck area—and I didn't feel any pain for five years. So I got there, somebody said, well, it would be wise to go talk to somebody and explain what happened, so that they might be able to lead you in the direction…. Because I can't even get a doctor's appointment for the evaluation that Work Force wants. But I was young, I didn't know.
I want to go back to school eventually. I know there are some courses out there that are appealing to me. But right now I gotta make sure that we get into a home, and not stay in the hotel. I've heard horror stories of families that have been there for years. They got three kids in the hotel and it's the same size as our room. It's like, five people—I don't know.
Our daughter is very bright. She's very independent. She's a year old. I want to see the best for her. Getting a job and getting into a home is first. My husband can't work because he's on disability. He has some problems of his own. And getting into a home, a stable environment, is the first priority. I can't think of anything beyond that right now.
My advice for someone else in my situation would be utilize your resources. They can be provided for at the police station; I've had them give me resource sheets. The homeless shelters—when you go into there, if you must. Before we left home, the car tire fell off—the whole front part came off—and that took $200 out of the traveling fund that we almost didn't have. When we got here, we had to go to one of the places for dinners. And they gave us sheets telling us resource places—where to get clothing, bedding—'course that was in Davenport, and their resource system's great, too. We really haven't had to do that here, because we got into the hotel. But resource centers, resource lists—even if you're afraid, you know?
These places are great! They really do help. And like, the clothing center—this shirt I got to wear dropping off my applications last week, so...they do help out a lot.
Pat, age 58
I grew up in Jefferson, Iowa. It's just me and my two dogs.
I always stop here once a month looking for some goodies, otherwise I can't make it. I'm on Social Security. I receive food stamps, which isn't very much. My food stamps last about a week; I get $92 a month. The way the economy is, I can't afford nothing! I can't afford it. I have to come here otherwise I couldn't stretch it. The Food Pantry feeds me for a week when my food stamps run out!
A typical meal for me is just a sandwich and maybe a soup, or just a soup.
Oh yeah, there have been times when I didn't have enough food to eat! I try to find a mission or someplace to eat a meal at least. The last week of the month it's better than nothing! There's always help out there, you just gotta pray and look for it.
I just take one day at a time. That's what God gave me. I guess I would want just more food in the pantry to help out a little more.
My hopes and dreams for my future? Seeing my grandkids all raised—I got 42 of them! My hopes and dreams for them are to get a college education and become something, because you gotta have a college education now just to get a job at Burger King.
I don't really talk to too many people about my life. I just take it one day at a time. I more or less keep my problems to myself, 'cause I feel like everybody else has got their own problems. My life's a lot better than a lot of people's. I'm not living underneath the bridge; I still got a roof. So that's the way I look at it.
Paul, age 39
I grew up in northern Iowa. There are three of us, ages 39, 37, and 4-1/2.
The Food Pantry helps stretch the food budget a little bit during the month. I’ve been coming here for two, maybe three months, twice a month.
The biggest obstacle I face in adequately feeding my family is feeding it with good nutrition—fresh vegetables versus boxed mac and cheese with a bunch of chemicals in it. A typical meal varies, but we usually try to mix in a lot of vegetables.
My hope is to get better every day—physically, mentally, financial. My hope for my child is to have less struggles in the future. I'm just a little short, that's all. People have it much worse than I do, so I'm, by far, not complaining.
Jane, age 44
I grew up in Florida. It's kind of not a good story to tell, but.... I was an at-home mom and I was raped by my ex-husband. I lived in a million-dollar home, and was kind of forced to this situation.
I have been coming to the Food Pantry about a year—once a month. I receive SNAP assistance about $80 a month. It doesn't last that long...probably about a week.
The biggest obstacle I face in feeding my family sufficiently is funds. I mean, I was a corporate wife in a million-dollar home. And so, then when you're re-entering the work force—I just don't have the experience.
A typical meal is very different than before, but like, hamburger helper and ground beef, and whatever sides. You know, probably eight dollars. I have not had a time where I haven't had sufficient food to feed my family, only thanks to [the Food Pantry], I would say. I would like more fresh things—you know what I mean—compared to canned or whatever. But it's summer, so today it's fresh.
I got married right out of college, and I do have a four-year degree. But I got married, became this corporate wife, and then sat home and raised my kids. You're thinking you're going to get the best for them and stay home and not put them in daycare. So maybe my kids had the best, but now I don't have anything for me. There was no alimony and now no child support, nothing. I have no retirement anything for me. So they can get financial aid and all these things because we're poor. There's kind of nothing there, post-divorce, I guess.... I don't see myself getting out of this system real quick. But I'm a substitute teacher.
My hope is just to get out of this situation! I think my children are going to be okay. I mean, one's in college, and one's in high school will go to college—I think they'll be okay.
Don't do what I did! You know what I mean? I guess I thought I was always going to be taken care of. I was just traveling the world and living in a million-dollar house. I thought I'd always... and then my husband just.... We took vacations that were $25,000 a week. Now I am not even living on that a year. I just don't rely on anyone for anything. You need to support yourself.
Others probably look at me and think, well, you went to college, just go out there and get a job. Well, if your last 16 years are blank…what are my marketable skills? "Well, you ran PTO, you ran Girl Scouts, you did all these things—just go get a job." All these other people just graduated from college and have all these skills and will work for nothing. Like, I have these kind of marketable skills, but I can be a substitute teacher right now.
So, work. Work, work, work. Put your kids in daycare; work. Depend upon yourself because you can't depend on anyone.
Kat, age 56
I was born in Chicago, and grew up in Kansas City. I moved to Des Moines, when I was 24.
It's me and my daughter, she's 31, and her three little girls—nine, six, and three.
My daughter went through a very tragic death of her husband in 2010. She wasn't emotionally able to pick things up right away, so I stepped in. She was living in Oklahoma, and then she moved back here after the death of her husband. And she was just so distraught, so she came to live with me—and we've just kind of been nurturing her and the kids, and she's doing well now. The girls are getting older and getting more questioning, and so we're just kind of helping her through it. She didn't always live with me, though, just within the last year and a half.
I've been coming to the Food Pantry since 2010, because I had some disability issues and unemployment, and I just needed the help. I still do, because my disability is here now and I just can't stretch enough. And I am diabetic, so I have to eat right, certain foods, and sometimes that's hard when you don't have a lot of money and you can't buy the vegetables, but you have to eat what you got. Sometimes that's pasta, sometimes that's rice, and those are not good things for diabetics, so.... My grandchildren can eat it, but I can't.
I get $60 food stamps a month. That lasts one trip to the grocery store. 'Cause you can't buy fresh fruits and vegetables and that's it for the month. So I try to stretch it out, but it doesn't last long. Honestly, I'm going to say about three days.
I know a lot about nutrition; I'd like to present it to my family. Sometimes my grandchildren even complain that they are not getting enough. They want more and I don't want them to be little fatty-poos, but they are good eaters, and I want to give them good stuff. Like I said, I am diabetic, and it's hugely, hugely important in my family that I'm able to eat and the kids are able to eat. It's like a lot of chicken, fish, and vegetables. I make something that's called this cabbage soup kind of thing, and it's got every vegetable I can think of besides carrots. It's cabbage, green pepper, green onions, white onions—any kind of vegetable I can think of, I just put it in a pot with some tomato sauce or even tomato juice to make a base. And then we'll have a piece of poached tilapia on the side. And for a snack I might give the girls a cupcake or something like that. But I'm trying; I'm really trying.
I had nothing—nothing—before I came here today. Yesterday we had hot dogs. And I don't do hotdogs. But you just got to get what you can afford.
Actually, when I first got into the situation—the disability and all—I was getting unemployment, and I was getting $200 food stamps a month. Of course, I didn't have my family with me then. To have more food stamps would help! Then I can choose. I can go to the store and I can buy my fresh fruits and vegetables, and I can plan my meals a little bit better. Coming here, I take what they give me and I do the best I can with it. But having more money or more food stamps to do that, or having a bigger variety or more portions—you understand what I'm saying. And I know it sounds kind of greedy—this situation is not going to go on forever; my daughter, she'll move on, but—I think about myself, the little $60 that I'm getting and the money that I'm getting, and I'm like, boy, I could do a whole lot better.
Because I'm disabled, I don't have a full-time permanent job, but I can work—I can do some things. As my grandchildren get older, all of them will be in school. And I'm sure by the time they go back to school this year they'll be out of my home. But I have them most of the time, so I have to make sure they have food to eat. I would like to see my income level come up just a little bit more. And me get healthier, lose some more weight.
I want my grandchildren to eat lean—that's what we call it in our house, to eat lean. And they're getting it. They know I'm diabetic, and if I even look at something that I shouldn't be eating, they'll tell me. But everything they put in their hands, they'll ask me, "Is this healthy for us? Is this good for us?” So, sunflower seeds, almonds—I'll tell them those are good foods—raisins. So they're learning, they're learning.
I came from family of 14—15 really, but my oldest brother was out on his own before we even realized it. My mother—I don't know how she did it, but—she took one chicken and fried it up on Sunday, and we all got something. So, I would just say, plan, plan, plan, is the best thing. Even if you're not diabetic, just planning your meals out helps a whole lot. You know what you got. And knowing your servings is a good thing to know. Because I think a lot of us, we eat good things but we're still overeating because we don't know our serving size.
People that are not in this situation can't understand, because they can afford to go to the store and buy. And if they see my hair looking all right and my nails looking good, "well, she evidently...." But there's a trick to all of that, too. I just think our cultures are different and therefore a lot of them don't understand. And I'm learning more. Soul food wasn't always for the soul; it was to appease the African-Americans because they weren't getting high on the hog. They were getting the chitlins, and they were getting the chicken feet, and they just made do. They would have loved to have the best of the steaks, but we had the chitlins. So they call it soul food now, but really it was sorrow food. I was at a gathering, it was mostly African-Americans, and most all of them were overweight. And I thought, here's diabetes, obesity.... And it's like, I don't know—it's sad. It's sad.
I just appreciate this Pantry. I love coming here—the people are nice, I'm satisfied with the foods I get. I'm doing the best I can. And then I like all the other little things they try to do to help, like the free screening, the health screening at the school. And around Christmas they sponsored me, and I got new towels for my household that I couldn't afford. I just couldn't afford to go get nice new towels, and I got a lot of nice new towels and a can opener to open all my cans!
Lori, age 46
I grew up in Urbandale. There are three of us, two children (ages 22 and 14) and one adult. About a year ago I separated, and so ended up having to move in with my parents. We have our own part of the house now that we live in until we can find regular housing.
I've been coming to the Food Pantry for about six months, about once a month. I get food stamps; it lasts about two weeks. The oldest one doesn't qualify for the food stamps, even though he is still at home and going to school.
I like to do a lot of casseroles. We just recently had to go gluten-free, so that makes a major impact now, because the stuff I do have to use the food stamps on—the gluten products—are so expensive, it's ridiculous. So...(I'm going to cry)...what I get here [at the Pantry], and then what I'm able to buy makes up, kind of…. I have to be the gluten-free one. I try and give them a casserole or spaghetti or pasta and a vegetable and a fruit. And then whatever I can conjure out of the hat.
Oh yeah, there have been times I didn't have enough food. Then I go to my parents, because we have our separate own living quarters. A lot of times we'll go and eat with them to kind of compensate for the difference. Or the kids go to friends'....
The Food Pantry has added just that extra amount; it's helped. It's been great, because it's covered the toothpaste, it's helped with the laundry soap, the milk—which can be expensive. It takes kind of that little bit of burden off of what I don't have to buy, since I now have to buy all the expensive stuff. 'Cause ten slices of gluten bread is five dollars and something. So, if I can get their bread here.... I would like that more people offer gluten-free products to a Pantry!
I want to finally be out and be fully self-sufficient. I hope to be able to find out about my disability—waiting on that—and then be able to have our own home and be able to take care of my family on my own, without having to have that extra assistance.
I hope my children learn from my experiences. To make better decisions in financing your money, make better decisions on what you're willing to compromise. Not to compromise love, because when you're in a loving relationship, it works. I mean, he spent all our money and so then I had to walk away with nothing, so…just learn from my mistakes. If you're going to find love, find true love—and that it's a healthy relationship. To budget your money better, take care of yourself, get a degree, keep in school. 'Cause it's tough out there!
I'm very, very grateful that they've made [the Food Pantry] accessible to me. I didn't realize that it was. I've really appreciated it. And I'm glad to see the clothing closet up and about. I have to be optimistic and hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I do believe that I will get myself turned around. It's just very humbling. It's kind of embarrassing, too. But it's just a set-back—that's all it is, it's just a set-back. Just a bump.
Voices in Our Community by Urbandale Food Pantry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.urbandalefoodpantry.org/voices.php.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.urbandalefoodpantry.org/contact.php.