Is Food the Most Flexible Expense?

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January 5, 2018 By: JT Pinther Category: SHH News

“Hello? Is that Clarissa I hear?”

She could hear him smiling through the phone and laughed. “Yes Dad, it’s me. How are you feeling?”

“Oh, I’m alright.,” Earl said. But to Clarissa, he sounded morose. Can you remind me when you’re coming to visit again?” Earl said.

Clarissa looked out the dining room window, biting her lip. “It’s a long haul with the kids, Dad. Oregon to Minnesota is not a cheap flight. It was a lot easier when you could visit us,” Clarissa said.

Silence enveloped the phone line, and Clarissa instantly regretted her words.

“It’s not just that. I can’t afford it,” Earl said. “Your mother passed what, seven years ago? I feel like I’m still paying for her chemo every day with how it drained our savings. I can’t afford to see my grandkids half a country away, and I don’t really even have enough for… well, never mind.”

“What? Enough money for what?” She could hear him clear his throat in the background. “Dad? Are you doing okay?”

Earl sighed. “You know my Social Security doesn’t give me much. I end up cutting corners on some things.”

“Like what?” Clarissa said. The concern was rising in her voice over the phone, and she hoped he didn’t hear it too.

“If I don’t pay my utilities, they’ll turn off my water,” Earl said. “If I don’t pay my insurance, I won’t be able to afford my prescriptions. If I don’t pay for gas, I lose all my independence. But if I don’t pay as much for food, nobody comes after me.”

“Dad. Are you telling me you’re not eating? Let me send you a check. Or, I’ll buy plane tickets tomorrow. Let’s get you in a good place.”

“Clarissa. You know how I feel about that,” Earl said, annoyed. “I don’t need your help. You have your own family to take care of.”

“You ARE my family,” Clarissa said. “You’ve been my family for longer than anyone else. I’ll get my tickets tomorrow. I love you Dad. I’ll see you soon.”


She didn’t normally do this, but Clarissa brought her laptop when she traveled to her hometown of Mankato. Her father did not own a computer, and she wanted to show him something important.

When Earl opened the door, Clarissa gave him a big hug. She knew this was hard for him, letting her help him. They sat with her laptop at the dining room table. “I was thinking about this after our phone call, and do you remember my friend Laurie?”

“Did she go to MSU with you?” Earl said.

“Yes! Good memory. Anyway, I haven’t seen that woman in years, but we’ve kept in touch. A few years ago she started working at Second Harvest Heartland.”

“I am NOT going to a food shelf,” Earl said. “If that’s what you came all the way here to tell me, then no thanks.”

Clarissa took a breath. “It’s not a food shelf, Dad. They help people, help people. They do outreach and work with food shelves and meal programs all over the state. I was looking this up, and Second Harvest Heartland provides a few ways to get food help, like this map showing where to get some free meals during tough times.”

She felt her father start to protest. “And before you say anything, let me show you this,” Clarissa said.

Earl’s narrowed eyes met the screen, but they quickly softened. There was a meal program that served hot dinners five days a week, and it wasn’t far from home. “That’s the church,” he said.

“Yes!” Clarissa said. “The church where you met Mom. Doesn’t that kind of feel like a sign? Do you think you could try going there?”

Earl looked stunned. “I think she would want me to reconnect,” he said. His face warmed into a small, hopeful smile. “I never thought I’d take help like this. But, Abigail and I raised you right. Thank you.”


Earl felt he had to pay his bills before feeding himself because many bills are not very flexible. Food is something many of our neighbors feel they should buy last, after all other expenses. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Second Harvest Heartland and its partners work together to make a powerful difference for families. Give today, and end the impossible choices one in 10 people in Minnesota and western Wisconsin have to make every day.


Note: This post is based on a true story about a real family we’ve served. To protect the identity of our clients, names have been changed. 


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