• Thu, Nov 14 - 3:30 pm ET

How To Feed Your Family From A Food Bank

shutterstock_151820921__1384444718_142.196.156.251Marisa Miller is a married mother of two who never imagined she’d find herself relying on the kindness of others to feed her family.”

I first “met” Marisa when a mutual friend of ours “introduced” us on Twitter. I had written a sarcastic piece about Gwyneth Paltrow and this mutual friend thought she would enjoy it. As it goes with “Twitter friends,” I quickly realized we had some more things in common as we began inserting our commentary on each other’s lives – as Twitter friends are wont to do.

It seemed that every trial I had gone through, Marisa had gone through – magnified by a thousand. I wrote of a second trimester miscarriage – she spoke of a tragic stillbirth. I mentioned the fear of not making it to the hospital in time to deliver my baby – she relayed an anecdote about delivering her child, by herself, on her bedroom floor. Before I began living so much of my life on the Internet, I always thought you had to meet someone in person to really get a sense of their soul. Not Marisa. She was a badass. I knew it immediately and not only felt strangely connected to her – but stood in awe from afar of her strength.

Well, it happened again as I was reading through CNN last night, glass of wine in hand – unwinding after a long day of writing and parenting. I glanced at the headline How To Feed Your Family From A Food Bank, and saw Marisa’s byline. Could it be the Marisa I knew? A quick peek at her Twitter stream proved that it was. I went back to the story and devoured it.

The first time you wait in line at a food pantry, you tell yourself that you don’t belong there and it won’t be forever because you’re not like “those” people. You act timid and unsure and give up the extra pack of strawberries because you think that lady with the dirty clothes and her kids must need it more. Three years later you become a Terminator, take all the cauliflower you can and start coaching the new volunteers on organization and food safety.

What I knew of Marisa was that she was a chef and food blogger – much like most of the people I’ve surrounded myself with most of my adult life. The thing about being in the service industry is that no matter how hard things get, you always eat well. For this reason – no matter how hard it got after the birth of my first child- I still never knew hunger. When we had our second child and things became impossible financially – we moved so we could be closer to my family. I am lucky to have that kind of support, and moved my whole life to an unfamiliar city simply for the assurance that my kids would never have to know hunger, either.

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  • kdwald

    The more we know about who goes to a food bank, the more we realize it could be any one of us but for a stroke of luck or two. Thanks for sharing.

  • NYBondLady

    ” Three years later you become a Terminator, take all the cauliflower you can…”
    So, how long does this woman plan to use the food pantry?

    • CMJ

      As long as she needs it.

    • NYBondLady
    • Marisa Miller

      I’m not going to say anything about this woman’s situation except that it makes me sad that people are too scared to give up assistance to go back to work. You need to tell the Universe you want to work. Telling it you want to stay dependent indefinitely will keep you right there.
      It would never occur to me to not take a job offered because I might lose some other kind of aid, but I;m sure she has her reasons and I am not going to judge them.

    • BlooSoxx

      What do you mean by putting quotation marks around the word DOLLAR? And I agree with Marisa – no one can judge another person’s actions without more insight into why they make the choices they do. I wish her well. All too often, if the very poor gain a salary, what they lose in other benefits is far greater than what they gain in money. So in effect they end up poorer than before.

    • Kelby Johnson

      You know what? You’re a monster. I read that article and she is a disabled veteran. SHE FOUGHT FOR YOUR FREEDOM and you’re pissed she’s on assistance?! Not to mention, she is DISABLED. I don’t understand how people can be so damn heartless to people on assistance who actually needs it. I normally would say that I hope you never have to be in this woman’s shoes, but I’m not gonna say that this time because I do hope you have to live on government assistance. Where you need to choose between Gas for your car or food for your table. Where you buy ALL of your clothes from thrift stores, never anything brand new, always someone’s hand me downs. Worrying whether or not your child will be picked on in school for being on ‘free lunch’. And knowing that if someone gives you a gift that is something nice, like a smart phone, or a brand new pair of shoes, or you have a tattoo from 20 years ago when you were 18 and living at home with no bills you’re going to be judged immensely. I can’t understand why people think that other people CHOOSE to live like this! Nobody in their right mind would choose that life. EVER. Go crawl back in your cave. Damn.

    • jessica

      You’re lovely. It always bothers me when people talk- on the internets or elsewhere- about all of the jerks cheating the system using their WIC cards at the supermarket when they’ve got iphones or $200 jeans on. Makes me wanna scream! It doesn’t occur to you that that iphone might be 4 going on 5 years old? Or a gift from a friend in better circumstances? Or those $200 jeans were found in a thrift store or handed down or bought on eBay for like $15? Just because people are poor doesn’t mean they need to dress in rags. In fact, most lower income people take great care with their clothing and the nice things they do have for a number of reasons. For example, one reason might because they know they can’t easily replace them- and the cell phone is the only phone they’ve got and their laptop died a while back and so the smartphone is the only way they can access emails. Another reason, and this def applies to anyone who works in retail for like $9 an hour, is that you can’t get a job if you don’t have nice, reasonably fashionable clothes! No one will hire someone dress in rags! I realize that I’m ranting at this point and I apologize. These issues and people like NYBondLady get me a bit heated!

    • TheGiantPeach

      Slow clap.

    • Marisa Miller

      We had a great deal of credit card debt and a co-sign on a car loan that we got stuck paying when the other person bailed on the loan. We decided to pay our debt off instead of cheesing out and going bankrupt. Next November I will add over $1000 back to my food budget and I will hopefully never set foot in one again except to volunteer ever again. It’s okay that I’m taking responsibility for debt we had before my husband quit his job for the lesser paying one and that this is what I do to make it work, isn’t it? My only other choice is to work a graveyard shift somewhere since we have not one single friend or relative within 450 miles of us and childcare would cancel out any income I would make.

    • Amber Starr

      Please, don’t feel like you need to explain yourself…. Some people are miserable trolls and they should just go lay down.

      The rest of us are just glad that you and your family have some help to hold you over.

    • Emmali Lucia

      As long as she needs the help.

      Seriously how rude can you be?

    • Amber Starr

      I’m pretty sure that this is just the tip of the ice berg. She sounds like a world-class douche.

    • Emmali Lucia

      Dude, she reminds me of one of those catty religious ladies that heads the church’s choir but if she saw Jesus Christ himself standing on a corner she’d scream “GET A JOB!” At him.

      Actually no, she wouldn’t scream get a job because she’d be too busy cowering over the fact that there’s a brown man on the corner. She’d grab her husband’s arm, cross the street, THEN scream at him to get a job.

    • Amber Starr

      Yeah, it always gets me when “good christian folks” forget that Jesus himself taught empathy and compassion and all that. Im sick of the posts on Facebook about “Ghetto families” getting food stamps and the thinly-veiled racism that goes along with it. They think that every person on assistance is some lazy brown person who is just foaming at the mouth to steal money from the hard working white man.

      They are so misinformed and so fucking hateful that it makes me sick. It’s coming up to the holidays, people. What better way to celebrate the birth of the Lord than to make sure that the most vulnerable among us; the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the young, have a full tummy and less of a burden upon their shoulders.

      They scream bloody murder about things like “keeping Christ in our schools”, well how about you keep in in your own HEART and stop being dicks to people who are just looking to feed themselves and their children.

      (Sorry to rant, this has just been getting to me over the last few weeks and it is getting worse the closer the holidays get)

    • Amber Starr

      Oh, and I would like to add that I consider myself to be Christian. I am not saying that ALL Christians are this way…. Many DO follow the word of helping those in need…. but it seems that the ones who scream their hateful drivel the loudest seem to do so under the guise of “christian faith”.

    • Emmali Lucia

      I’d never assume that all Christians are that way. I know plenty of Christians who are amazing people and was even one myself for over a decade, I’m halfway between Judaism and agnosticism right now since growing completely disillusioned with the church after growing up in a small Baptist town that was chock FULL of the type of people we’re talking about. It’s exhausting, to watch these people act so shitty towards one another under the cloak of being a good person.

      I mean hell, I was ONE OF those people when I was a young teen. I am so glad I grew out of it, but it took a lot of therapy to realize that just because was (Insert thing that “Makes you a good person” here, it was actually a virgin instead of a Christian, but the same thinking applies) did not mean I was a good person, and now that I am not ____ I can still be a good person and make (Insert entity here, I usually insert family members who are gone) proud every day.

    • meteor_echo

      Oh. you again. I knew that, whenever there’s talk of state assistance, you’re going to pop up.

      Getting real tired of your bullshit.
      http://i.imgur.com/KWmaAlF.gif

    • CMJ

      She’s like Beetlejuice.

      Assistance! Assistance! Assistance! POOF!

    • meteor_echo

      Pretty much.

    • jessica

      Normally I prefer to speak in complete sentences but your comment deserves an LOL or five… LOL!

    • Amber Starr

      Um, I believe that the correct answer is……….. None of your business.

    • FF4life

      Depends… When is the government going to pass a mandatory living wage?

  • TngldBlue

    If you aren’t going through a rough financial time, please please please donate food, time, or whatever you can afford to your local food bank or soup kitchen.

  • Tea

    Been there, done that, went a few weeks on top ramen and rice because we were too embarrassed to go back. The stigma of accepting help can be brutal, and even though we only needed it a few times, I still remember those days and give more than cream corn whenever I have the chance.

    I really wish the local ones accepted fresh produce, I have so many apples wasting on my counter top.

    • Pappy

      To quote a mommyish author (whose name escapes me): Creamed corn is the Pinellas County, Florida of canned corns. WTF are you supposed to do with it? GIVE THE POOR PEOPLE BETTER CORN, YOU MONSTER! :-P

  • once upon a time

    I wonder if anyone knows, my local library does a yearly amnesty where you can get your late fees wiped by donating tinned goods that they pass on to families in need. What are the best tinned goods to donate? I normally go with tinned veggies but I wonder if there’s anything better I could donate?

    • Marisa Miller

      peanut butter.

    • once upon a time

      Unfortunately they only take cans, not jars. But I’ll be making a big peanut butter donation to my local Salvation Army so thanks for the tip!

    • Tinyfaeri

      Our local food bank is usually pretty happy to get baby food. And as Marisa said, peanut butter for adults/kids is great, too.

    • once upon a time

      Baby food, that’s a great idea!

    • jessica

      Another good option are those little meal in a can things. I can’t remember the brand name but they are with the canned food in the grocery store and contain a pasta salad with tuna, peas, corn. Good for people who don’t have a way to cook. They also come with a little fork inside the lid so eating utensil is included.

    • jessica

      I meant carrots, not corn.

    • once upon a time

      Yeah, I’ve thought about that a couple of times, but I think those meals taste like ass so it seemed condescending or whatever (I won’t eat this but it’ll do for you!) But you make an excellent point about eating utensils included.

    • jessica

      Ha, they can be an acquired taste, defintely! I eat one almost every day for lunch myself but I’m also used to eating things that are vinegar-y thanks to my heritage and mom’s cooking growing up so I can understand that a lot of people wouldn’t like to eat them.

  • Sarah

    I’ll never forget the day a friend with 8 children showed up to my house homeless, The day before Christmas. At the time my husband and I both worked had new cars, expensive clothing, jewelry and cell phones. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so I wasn’t concerned about gifts. However we had 2 small children of our own and a live in sitter to support. In that first month we used $100 worth of laundry supplies, toilet paper, and trash bags. She was the poster child for responsible food stamps use yet ran out three days before she got more. And in that 3 days that I covered food, it cost more than my entire month’s budget. The next month I saw my water bill had risen $75 from their stay. It broke my heart to ask them to leave, but we were stacked like sardines in my 1000 sq ft mobile home, eating in shifts and bathing the children was more exhausting than my job bathing 20 or more people a day at the nursing home. We had no savings, no credit card, and no family to help out. I had always prided myself for my good choices, for being stable, responsible and self sufficient, and for my ability to find ways to make ends meet without assistance. We stripped salvaged wire to recycle the copper, my husband moonlighted doing HVAC work at half price, I traded vehicle use for child care, I worked 18 hr shifts, we always ate alot of beans and rice (my hubby is Hispanic anyway), did “leftover potlucks” turned our heat off entirely in the daytime, and I EXTREME couponed. Yet there I was broke at the food bank a week between paychecks and with no diapers, toilet paper, with a water cutoff notice and a shiny SUV (the one I bought 3 years before). If I had not been breastfeeding, I would have been without formula too. And I bet I looked ridiculous and totally undeserving because of my nice car, and my cheap $10 cell phone. Unfortunately I had to go alone because there was no way we could take 11 children with us to see if we could get some food to tide us over and a little help with the water bill. There was no way I wanted to spend my (half) day off at home with the kids while she took my car. We were so undeserving…

  • Melissanichole

    I recently learned that, in Montana, college students are ineligible for food stamps. I was making about 1,000 dollars a month. My tuition was 300, car 100, phone 40, and rent was the rest. I hadn’t eaten in a few days so I went to our assistance office. They told me I was not eligible as long as I was in school. I was shocked- do I have to drop out and work a shitty job so I can eat? I go to the food bank every 30 days and eat at the soup kitchen. Haven’t eaten today. Have to wonder if school is worth it.