The Face of Hunger: The People Behind the Numbers

The face of hunger is not what some people might expect. Many people seeking food assistance in Minnesota and western Wisconsin have jobs, raise families, work toward education and live with health problems—like many of us. Unfortunately, our clients also have to make difficult trade-offs to get enough food for their families.

Meet some of the people who are struggling with hunger. They have unique experiences, hard decisions to make, and stories to tell.

Face of Hunger: Jeff

Jeff: A Balancing Act

Jeff is 51 years old and has worked his entire life, until last winter when his desire to complete a job outside in dangerously cold conditions cost him his health.

I was working into the middle of the night, trying to get something done and I severely frost bit my feet. The doctor said the damage could last a year, two years, or even the rest of my life.

So Jeff found himself with no job, and no way to pay the bills. He says because he owned a house and a car, finding help was hard to come by.

There was a year of having almost no income — you’re making decisions all the time of which bills to pay. It’s a big balancing act.

It came down to deciding whether to pay the mortgage or buy food. That is, until he found out about Second Harvest Heartland and the food shelves it supports.

It’s a hard situation where you’re used to making enough money to cover everything and not having any of these problems. Then you have to go change, it’s a hard thing to do.

Jeff said his experience has given him an entirely different perspective.

You don’t think of it when you have the money, and you’re going to the store. A box of cereal—that’s $4. At the foodshelf, they have cereal so that saves me $4—that’s a gallon of gas to get me to two doctor’s appointments. It’s like a Rubik’s cube—you try to get all the colors on one side; it never seems to happen but you try to get as close as you can.

Face of Hunger: Karen

Karen: From Surviving to Thriving

She was a busy mom and special education teacher at a Minneapolis high school, until Karen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007. Since her diagnosis, she has been unable to work and life has not been easy, especially last year.

I’ve dubbed 2014 as the Year of Challenges, but I have a strong self-worth and I don’t give up and I haven’t.

In addition to her own special needs, Karen is caring for her grown daughter—left blind in a car accident last year. Yet, Karen’s positive attitude is getting her through the tough times.

I used to use the expression ‘I’m a survivor,’ but that’s not good enough. I want to thrive.

Despite her illness, she chooses to work a couple of weekends a month at the Minneapolis Crisis Nursery—a natural place for Karen.

I’m basically maternal, and ever since I started working in special education with Minneapolis Public Schools, I’m now a caregiver. I have business cards made up that say ‘Caring Karen.’

But with minimal income, a mortgage and medical needs to pay for, food is not always at the top of the list for Karen. Her weekly trips to her local food shelf are a necessity, and just a nice place to go.

The food shelf—it’s a community. You look forward to seeing people there. Sometimes you see them more than your own family.
Face of Hunger: Audrey's Letter

Audrey: We Thought We Had Done Everything Right

Face of Hunger: Audrey

We never know who in our daily work we’re going to touch…until we hear from them. That’s why an unexpected thank you note we received last year—pictured above—touched us so deeply.

We followed up with the note’s author, Audrey, and her story is below.

Audrey, 83, thought she and her late husband of 60 years had done everything right to carry them through retirement.

But surgeries and other medical costs eliminated their savings, and Audrey started relying on food support after her husband’s death three years ago.

With my monthly box of food, I now eat healthier food and have one less thing to worry about. I can focus on living life the way I want to live it.
Face of Hunger: Fridge

Amber: Family Comes First

Face of Hunger: AmberAmber

When Amber and her boyfriend had their first child, they decided she would stay at home with the baby to sidestep costly child care. But going from two paychecks to one with a baby is more than they could handle.

So every month, Amber goes to a local food shelf to help make ends meet.

The food shelf puts food in my refrigerator. On days like today, if you looked in the refrigerator or freezer, you won’t find anything in there but a couple of eggs.

She says life isn’t always easy.

Every day there’s something—whether it’s diapers or car repairs. This morning, we were supposed to go to the food shelf because our refrigerator is completely empty right now. But when my boyfriend went to go to work, his car wouldn’t start. So now we have car repairs on top of no groceries, and we can’t go to the food shelf because we have no car.

She admits sometimes it gets her down.

I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders—but I don’t let it affect my family. I have my moments when I’m in a room crying because we’re down, but you just have to take it one day at a time. In the end, you have to stay positive.