A Little Help Goes a Long Way
On a brisk autumn afternoon in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, the church of St. Stephanus is bustling with smiling faces, mountains of winter squash from the season’s last harvest and towering pallets of donated food. Ben, a young father, pushes a stroller loaded with squash, greens, fruit and dairy products, while Emily holds their young daughter Olive, who is gleefully devouring a tiny piece of cake.
This young family has visited the Frogtown produce distributions a few times, and they say the food they take home helps them make ends meet. They’re especially grateful to receive produce and dairy, and they use the money saved to buy nutritious proteins for Emily, who is a vegetarian, and wholesome food for Olive.
“Usually they’re giving out fruits and vegetables, and that’s really helped us ensure that there’s something fresh in the refrigerator,” Ben says. “After our daughter was born, we tried to be more mindful of what’s in our food.”
Ben is a project manager for a construction company, and Emily works at a preschool. Despite both parents working full time, they often find that they have little money left over to buy food after paying student loans, medical bills, utilities and child care expenses.
“I feel like our paycheck is constantly eaten up so quickly,” Ben says. “It’s always a struggle and a balance to stretch and make it work.”
Seeking relief from their financial strain, Ben and Emily applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). However, the steady income from their full-time jobs deemed them ineligible, even though their monthly expenses left them living paycheck to paycheck.
“On the surface it doesn’t look like we should need help, but when you look at the nitty-gritty details, we are in a big gray area,” Emily adds.
The holiday season presents both joyful reunions and extra challenges. With both of their families scattered across the Midwest, Ben and Emily will spend this year’s Christmastime on the road, driving to visit their parents. The holidays will be heavily centered around mealtime, with feasts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as a celebratory breakfast on the day they depart. Although time spent with their family is precious, smaller paychecks are a consequence and the stress of the season creates higher demands on their financial resources.
“We’re definitely stretched more in the wintertime,” Ben shares. “It’s an expensive time of year.”
To help alleviate the cost of food during the holidays, Ben and Emily plan to make regular visits to local food distributions.
Resources like food shelves and produce distributions make an important difference in the lives of many families like Ben, Emily and Olive. Emily said she tries to challenge the social beliefs about people seeking assistance.
“There is this big stigma that other people have it worse than you do and that you shouldn’t be taking services away from them,” she said. “Just because you are employed doesn’t mean you can afford even the basic necessities.”
Second Harvest Heartland provides, on average, 80 percent of all food distributed by its agency partners. Your donation this holiday season will make sure our agency partners’ shelves are stocked with healthy, fresh foods. Remember our hungry neighbors like Ben, Emily and Olive this holiday season and make a gift today.