Elena Felt the Pain of Hunger Three Times Over—Once for Each of Her Kids

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February 28, 2018 By: JT Pinther Category: SHH News

One egg. It was the only food Elena* had in her house.

Elena felt the pain of hunger three times over—once for each of her kids. The time there was only one egg, Elena reached out to her sister, the only relative she has who lives nearby, and her sister was able give her some money for food.

“If it wasn’t for my sister, I’d probably be in the street,” Elena said. “But there’s only so much people can do—they have their own families and their own bills.”

Knowing she couldn’t rely on going to her sister for all her groceries, Elena had to find another way to keep food in the fridge despite having no money to buy it.

The first time she went to the food shelf, it was hard for Elena to walk tall. “I was very embarrassed when I first went,” Elena said. “I was picturing the Great Depression, but it was actually very nice.” Elena brought home enough groceries for a few days and went to bed that night knowing her kids had full tummies, but her fight with hunger was not over.


How does someone get into this difficult place, a place of immeasurable stress? For Elena, like many of the people we serve, it was an unexpected transition. For years, Elena was doing well—certainly having no more than a modest income, but she and her husband both had full-time work. They had enough money to live, enough money to not worry.

Elena gave birth to her third child two years ago, and her daughter was only a month old when Elena’s mother moved out of state. Her mother provided childcare, the only childcare she could afford. And almost overnight, that resource drove away in a moving van. “I had to stop working, because I was the one making less money from my husband,” Elena said. “My parents said they’re moving back, but I don’t know when, and I want them to so I can get back to work! I’ve always worked. This is the first time I’ve ever been this broke.”

In the process of applying for medical assistance for her kids, Elena received a call from one of Second Harvest Heartland’s SNAP Outreach Specialists. The specialist told her that Elena may qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and it was a big surprise to her. Second Harvest Heartland helped Elena fill out the application, and Elena received funds to purchase groceries.

When Elena received her SNAP benefits in the mail a couple of weeks later, it was an emotional experience. “It felt like a MILLION dollars, and we were so excited, all this money for food! All of the kids were so excited. We all started crying.”

Elena’s family received $200 in SNAP benefits for a family of five for one month. Far from “a million dollars” as it felt like for her, that $200 still meant everything to Elena—not even enough funds for a full month of groceries, but so much more than one egg.

All of her family’s SNAP benefits go to meat, vegetables and fruits. “My kids will DEVOUR fruits. I try to not get so much food at once, so I can always have fruits. We’re trying to eat fish, chicken. In the past we’ve gotten a turkey, boiled it and then frozen it, so later in the future, we’ll always have meat.” She added that absolutely none of her SNAP dollars purchase junk food, and there isn’t a luxury for empty calories when her kids’ nutrition is at stake.

Elena is just doing what she needs to do for her kids, but she is heartbreakingly hard on herself. “I feel like a loser, but I keep having to talk to my family, but they aren’t even here. My kids are really small. It’s overwhelming.”

Today, Elena is anxiously waiting for her parents to move back home so she can return to work. “It’s so much easier to work. It’s 100 times better, it’s so much easier to save.” Until then, she is taking the help she can get. Between her access to a food shelf and SNAP, things are okay.


Proposed legislation in the 2018 Farm Bill would cut SNAP benefits for thousands of Minnesotans (and other Americans) like Elena. Read more about how you can help protect SNAP.


*A representative name and photo have been used to protect the identity of this family.



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