On a crisp, sunny morning in the San Diego neighborhood of Tierrasanta, Edna McCurdy, a young mother of three, holds her one-year-old son as she stands in line for food assistance at the Food Bank’s food distribution for low-income military families.
“I came out here today to get help from the San Diego Food Bank. We were transferred here from South Carolina a month ago, and we were shocked by the high prices. The cost of living is extremely high in San Diego. When we moved here, the Navy increased the housing allotment to cover the extra rent, but it doesn’t cover food. When we moved from South Carolina to San Diego they increased our Basic Housing Allowance but they do not increase my husband’s pay,” explains Edna.
Edna’s husband, Duane, is an EN3 Petty Officer Second Class in the Navy and works as an engine mechanic. They have three children. “My youngest is Landon. He’s one year old. Hunter is four years old, and my oldest is Autumn. She’s seven and in the first grade,” beams Edna as she smiles at Landon.
This is Edna’s second time receiving help from the Food Bank. “The first time I came was last month because the only thing I had in the kitchen was a little bit of meat that my neighbor gave me. My husband was on deployment, and my neighbor suggested that I get help from the Food Bank, so I came and got enough food to get us through to pay day,” explains Edna.
“Despite the increased cost of rent for housing and the price of food out here, my husband’s pay doesn’t go up, so we deal with what we’re given, and the Food Bank helps us a lot. I still have car payments and my car insurance also increased when we moved out here,” says Edna.
“I don’t know what we’d do without the San Diego Food Bank,” explains Edna. “I would be forced to feed my children a lot of ramen noodle soup, rice and pasta which isn’t nutritious. The food from the Food Bank that we receive is nutritious, well-rounded and meets my children’s dietary needs – the meats, the whole grains, the fruits and vegetables. It all helps so much because we can’t afford to buy them at the supermarket,” explains Edna.
“My kids love the fresh produce and fruit that we get from the Food Bank. Back home in South Caroline we used to have a garden where we grew fresh vegetables, but you can’t do that here in San Diego. I used to grow watermelon, cantaloupe, bell peppers, zucchini, squash, broccoli, potatoes and corn. My kids would help me, and it was a great activity that they loved doing. I can’t do that here. There’s just no room and there are rules about digging where we rent,” says Edna.
“We love coming to this distribution site because we wait in the park for our number to be called, and the children get to play in the playground, and I can to meet other military moms which is great for me since we are new to San Diego.”
Edna walks through the food line and she receives tomatoes, asparagus, bell peppers, zucchini, apples, oranges, canned soup, canned meats, canned vegetables, cereal, fruit juice, bread, oatmeal, and rice. As she receives the food, Edna explains how much the assistance helps her family.
“The donations help us out a lot, especially with a family of five living on a limited budget. The Food Bank truly is a blessing for us. We are thankful for all of the donations,” says Edna as she puts the last bag of groceries in her car.
If you would like to help families like Edna, please support the Food Bank’s Military Initiative. Contact Kaye de Lancey, Director of Development, at 858-863-5129 or KDeLancey@sandiegofoodbank.org.
Although the holidays are over, the Food Bank would like to introduce you to one family that you helped with your donations.
Mary Bonine, 66, and her daughter, Maribeth, visited the Food Bank’s emergency food distribution site in Spring Valley just before the holidays. “It’s nearly Christmas and we have nothing at home. We need to feed our boys,” said Mary, a grandmother from Jamul who drove 45 miles with her daughter to get help for their family.
“The children will be home from school over the Christmas holidays, but right now the cupboards at both my home and my daughter’s home are bare,” said Mary who rents a mobile home next door to Maribeth, who is disabled and lives with her three teenage sons and her husband who works as a truck driver.
“My husband’s salary just isn’t enough to support a family of five, and we often face times when there is little or no food at home,” said Maribeth, who only gave her first name and asked not to be photographed.
Mary lost her job in the mortgage industry during the recession and has gone through her entire savings. “I am totally reliant on social security now. Rent takes most of my income, and I have little left over for food. The rest goes to propane,” she said. “I try to share what little I have with my daughter and her family, but it’s not enough.” Mary and her daughter visit the Food Bank every month and appreciate the fresh produce she and her family receive. “The fresh produce from the Food Bank is pristine. We love the broccoli, cucumbers, pears and other fresh vegetables and fruits. It really helps because the foods that we survive on are cheap foods that are really fattening, and I have put on weight. We eat a lot of rice, pasta, and bread,” she said with a smile that masks her period of hardship.
Mary’s eyes light up when she talks about her 14-year-old twin grandsons. “One plays basketball. The other plays football, but is more academic. The 17-year-old is a junior in high school. He wants to work part time at the local feed store to help out the family, but it’s a 30 mile drive into town, and we don’t have a way to get him to work,” she said. “They will be so happy to see the food we got today. This is great.”
Although Mary’s job search has been challenging, the grandmother of three refuses to give up. She took seasonal work over the holidays at a pumpkin farm and hopes to get a substitute teaching job in the New Year. As she and her daughter leave the food distribution with boxes of food for their family, a look of relief fills Mary’s face. “The most important thing is that we have each other, and thanks to the Food Bank we will have enough food to get us through the holidays.”
Gloria Richardson smiles warmly as she explains the circumstances that forced her to ask the Food Bank for help. Richardson, a North Park resident for over 40 years, is a senior citizen and lives on Social Security. She recalls raising two children as a single mother while working 12 hour shifts as a nursing assistant. “I was making good money then,” she explains. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be standing in a food line. Never in my wildest dreams.”
Last year Richardson found that her Social Security income was not enough to cover her bills. “I was finding that with prices going up, I didn’t have any money left for food,” she said. “I had maybe ten dollars for the whole month after rent, utilities and medication.” While Richardson asked her children for help in emergencies she did not want to take food from her grandchildren’s mouths. “They’re just making ends meet … and like everybody else they’re living paycheck to paycheck with children.”
So she scraped by on a meager diet of “canned vegetables and spaghetti with butter.” But her daily portions grew smaller and smaller and her food supply was not stretching the entire month so she decided to take drastic action—at the beginning of every month Richardson marked two “No Eat Days” on her calendar.
As she leafs through the calendar’s pages that document her recent struggle with hunger, Richardson’s cheerful expression is betrayed by a momentary flash of pain in her eyes. She points to the calendar’s sprawling grid of days bearing two large red circles with the words “No Eat.” “These are days where I wouldn’t eat at all,” she said. “I would drink a lot of water and try to keep my mind on other things, other than the fact that I was hungry. I figured that if I could fast for one or two days then I would have food for the rest of the month.”
Richardson followed this regime for several months and lost over thirty pounds but became worried about the health effects of continued weight loss. “After this,” she said, “I decided that I couldn’t lose any more weight and it was time to go to the Food Bank.” It was a hard decision for Richardson. “I have a lot of pride,” she says. “But I thought, you know what, it’s time to swallow my pride and go stand in a food line. You gotta do what you gotta do… After I went to the Food Bank things changed.”
Richardson enrolled in the Food Bank’s program for senior citizens and receives food at distributions in North Park. Every month Richardson receives a range of food items including canned meats, cheese, cereal, juice and canned soup as well as fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and bread.
Richardson is relieved that her “No Eat Days” are behind her.“I don’t have to worry about food now or go hungry thanks to the Food Bank,” she said with moist eyes. “The distributions help tremendously. I am just so thankful to the donors who make these programs possible.”
On a cold, rainy Monday morning Alejandra and her sister Marisol stand in line to receive food for their family at one of the Food Bank’s monthly food distributions in southeast San Diego. The sisters, in their late twenties, huddle together to stay warm.
Alejandra moved in with Marisol and her husband two years ago to help Marisol take care of her three young children. “My sister needed help with the kids so I moved in, and I was able to watch the children while Marisol was at work,” said Alejandra. “She worked days and I worked nights so one of us was always home to take care of them. None of us knew what would happen afterwards though.” she added.
After Alejandra moved in, Marisol’s husband lost his job in construction, and Marisol was laid off from her job as a housekeeper at the Holiday Inn. Then Alejandra lost her restaurant job. “Times have been really tough. We keep looking for work but we can’t find anything. Marisol’s husband gets odd jobs as a handyman and Marisol has a little work cleaning houses, and somehow we manage to scrape by, but it’s really hard,” said Alejandra.
Often the cupboard is bare at home Alejandra explains, apart from a little rice and beans. “Our main concern is the kids. We will skip food sometimes or not eat much so the kids have enough. Fortunately our church has been able to help us, and we have been coming to the Food Bank every month. The food we get here really helps,” says Alejandra as she is handed a box of fresh produce by a Food Bank volunteer. Alejandra and Marisol’s story reflects the impact of the economy on working families throughout San Diego County who have been forced turn to the Food Bank for help.
Thanks to the Food Bank’s supporters we are able to provide a safety net for Alejandra and Marisol’s family and thousands of families like theirs who face the same struggle putting food on the table every day. As she places the last bag of food in their car, Alejandra turns and says, “We pray that things will get better because without hope there’s nothing.” And to finish that thought Alejandra gently puts her arm around her sister and says, “She’s my hope. We’ll get through this together.”