Food + You Means Security for Jessica and her Family
Jessica Cook’s two kids, Trinity (5) and Logan (4) aren’t picky eaters. They enjoy eating carrots just as much as they enjoy eating Girl Scout cookies. They like chicken nuggets and hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tacos. They like grilled chicken and vegetables. They would love to eat a cupcake every day, if their mom would let them. But there’s one meal that they look forward to more than any other: Pancakes for dinner. It’s become a tradition for Jessica and her kids since they started visiting Lincoln Center Elementary School each month for free groceries.
“After picking up food at Lincoln, we typically have pancake night at home since we will most likely be getting syrup, pancake mix and peanut butter — everything needed to make a good pancake,” Jessica said.
Jessica, who lives in Saint Paul where she attends nursing school, estimates she gets around 25 percent of her monthly groceries from Food + You distributions. Lincoln Center Elementary is one of 16 schools participating in Food + You, a school-driven Second Harvest Heartland program that facilitates federally funded nutrition programs and coordinates direct food distributions.
Getting free and nutritious food through the program means that Jessica doesn’t have to choose between pursuing a career as a nurse and feeding her kids. It means she always has enough food in the pantry. It means security.
“Because of programs like Food + You, I don't have to struggle as much,” she said. “I just have to be very conscious of my budget now. It's truly wonderful not to have to worry about if there is enough food in the house to feed the kids dinner.”
Jessica found out about the program through her sister-in-law, Elisha, who takes care of Trinity and Logan when Jessica is at school and volunteers at the distribution. Jessica admitted she never imagined she’d end up being an unemployed single mother, but that’s exactly what happened after her fiancé, Eric, Elisha’s brother, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2015.
“The myth that people who need a helping hand are lazy or just want something for free is completely wrong,” Jessica said. “I work just as hard as the next person and I do it alone all while ensuring that my children are happy and not hungry. I wish people understood that needing a little help is OK. I won't need it forever.”
And Jessica won’t need help forever. She graduates from nursing school in December.
“I'm excited to finish nursing school so I can work more and study less, and so I can spend more quality time with my kids. We plan on having a lot of picnics in the park this summer.”
Learn more about Food + You and how Second Harvest Heartland is helping create more access to food for children and their families.