Stories

You give Mary and Vern hope!

Stories Mary and Vern“In May, Vern and I will have been married 63 years,” smiles Mary. “We moved to Helena just about two years ago to be closer to our kids. It’s easier to be close to them because Vern has a few health problems.” Aside from Vern’s health and being close to the couple’s children, Mary enjoys the weather and says, “The people here are just as friendly as can be!”

Soon after they moved to Helena, Vern and Mary went to Rocky Mountain Development Council for a lunch for local seniors. While there, they heard about Helena Food Share, and it sounded like a great way to help them ensure they were able to access enough food to get by on their fixed income, especially with having to juggle Vern’s costly health needs. “I can’t tell you how tremendous the difference is for us when we shop at the pantry! It helps us a lot with the fixed income we have,” Mary says, relief in her voice.

“Even though most days are a bit tough, you can’t keep him down on Food Share day!” Mary exclaims. “He gets up, gets dressed, and insists on coming. We both look forward to our visits to the pantry. The people are so friendly and it becomes a fun, social time for both of us!”

Nearly 1 in 3 of the people served by Helena Food Share is a senior. For many seniors, managing limited, fixed incomes is a daily challenge. Quality of life, health and comfort can hang in the balance when they have to choose between food, necessary medicine, and heating their homes. Helena Food Share is here to ensure they don’t have to make such difficult decisions.

Like many of Helena Food Share’s senior clients, Mary and Very come to the pantry for four different programs, each helping them to access foods that ease the burden on their budget. They shop for perishables with the Weekly Grocery Program, collect federal commodities through the Senior Commodities program, use coupons for fresh produce with the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, and pick up foods (such as meats, milk and eggs) on their Monthly Grocery Program shopping trips. Each program at Helena Food Share is designed to target hunger in a specific way, and many clients access multiple programs to ease the struggles they face.

As with many elderly and disabled clients, having family and friends in the community to safely drive Mary and Vern to the pantry ensures they can access Helena Food Share’s programs. The couple schedules trips to the pantry with their children, who ensure they are able to make it to appointments around town.

Mary can’t give enough praise to the volunteers and staff at the pantry. “We are always so happy to see them, and they like to see us too. We usually end up getting hugs, and someone always makes sure Vern gets cookies when we are shopping!” If she could say anything to the people who support Helena Food Share and make its programs possible, Mary says, “First and foremost, thank you. God bless you for helping others this way. It makes a very big difference for us so we don’t have to make difficult decisions at home.”

Andrew and Emmy need your help.

“My wife came down and signed us up,” Andrew* said of Helena Food Share. “The first visit, she came home and about bawled. She said she’d never had so much food.”

Andrew and Emmy* have four children, all under the age of 13. The family enjoys camping, fishing, and playing board games together.

Andrew is determined to provide for his family, but with four children, things can be difficult. “Before we came to Helena Food Share for help, we were really trying to do everything on our own and it just wasn’t doable. We were always trying to figure out what bills to pay. We juggled a lot of them and it was really stressful.”

He was hesitant at first, but Andrew realized the kind of help the family had from the pantry when Emmy first visited and quickly came on board. “We don’t have to worry how we’re going to get food all the time. This gives us the chance to pay some bills that we juggled before. We’re careful with our money, but it gives us breathing room.”

Andrew has worked at the same organization for 25 years, and Emmy was an at-home daycare provider for a time. Unfortunately, the daycare wasn’t able to help pay many bills. “Emmy ran the daycare for a while, and that was great, but everything just went back into the business. We had to make a tough decision and close the business.” Their children are the priority, and Andrew and Emmy do what is best for them. Emmy and Andrew opened the at-home daycare as a way for Emmy to stay home with their four children, and that remains a priority. So after closing their daycare, Emmy found part-time work at a different daycare and is able to bring the kids when needed.

Andrew and Emmy may have to juggle bills from time to time, but they didn’t want to juggle food. Food for their family is a priority, which is why they reached out for help.

The family receives benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). “It’s actually pretty helpful,” says Andrew. Even so, a six person household’s maximum benefit only provides $5.13 per day** for each family member to eat with. He and Emmy also signed the kids up for Healthy Montana Kids, a state-operated program offering free or low-cost health insurance for Montana children up to 19 years old. “I don’t know what we’d do if we had to pay for insurance for them through my job,” Andrew says as he shakes his head. “I’d be down to one paycheck to pay the rest of the bills. It just wouldn’t be enough.”

The holiday season is fast approaching, but Andrew isn’t concerned. “Our Christmas isn’t about trying to buy stuff,” he smiles, a twinkle in his eye. “We enjoy one another’s company and do fun things together. We do some small presents, but the grandparents take care of bigger needs.” He’s already planning what to do with the kids this year, and is thinking about a scavenger hunt. “It would be something new for us and I think they’d have a great time.

When asked about Helena Food Share, Andrew says, “It has helped my family out tremendously. And if someone was thinking about supporting this place, I’d let them know this place is family oriented and helps us get through. It’s a place for any family.”

*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.

**Statistic provided by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

You made a difference for Charlie’s family!

Stories Charlie and EmilyCharlie* and his family spent time in Montana and he was looking for a career change. Helena’s quality of life, real estate market, and the positive community being a great place to raise his children were great selling points. The family chose to call Helena home.

Charlie and his wife, Emily*, have several children, and all of them are homeschooled. The family enjoys spending time outdoors, regularly camping and spending time at the lake. They also share a love of music, often singing and playing instruments together.

Charlie is working hard setting up his new realty business, but starting over in a new place is always a challenge. Having children made a difference for Charlie. He wants what is best for them, especially keeping them from experiencing hunger. “Being in realty, you don’t get paid unless you close a deal. Somehow, we heard about Food Share. We decided we should visit the pantry, but we didn’t want to rely on it. It’s a blessing to us.”

Meals are a family event at Charlie and Emily’s house. Everyone takes turns helping to prepare for them, and they cook from scratch a lot. As Charlie works to set up his business, affording to cook from scratch is a challenge. “We try to buy more healthful foods, but with our income where it is, we’ve had to scale that back a bit. When we’re back on our feet and better established, we’re looking forward to going back to that,” Charlie says with a smile.

Not long after visiting the pantry for food, the family learned about volunteer opportunities. It was natural for Charlie and his family to get involved. “We’re benefitting from the programs, so we wanted to be able to give back. My son is 17 and he volunteers every week. He rides with Dave on the truck to do Grocery Rescue,” says Charlie. “I fill in for him when he’s not able to, since my work schedule is so flexible.”

The generosity Charlie and his son have experienced has made him appreciate the community and Helena Food Share.“I like to know there’s not a lot of food going to waste from the stores and that it is going to people in need. It might be simpler for them to put it in a dumpster, but they’re choosing to pass it on. That’s really good for the community.”

Charlie wants what is best for his family, and coming to Helena Food Share was the right decision. Getting families like Charlie’s back on their feet is the most important thing Helena Food Share does. Thank you for joining in building a hunger-free Helena!

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Your generosity helped Kaitlyn!

Stories KaitlynKaitlyn* is a native Montanan who moved back home from Las Vegas. High crime rates and drugs she saw in the city weren’t something she wanted to raise her young daughter around, so the decision was an easy one.

Kaitlyn had been promised paychecks from her employer in Nevada, but the checks didn’t come when they were supposed to. This caused financial problems that made it necessary for her to visit Helena Food Share’s pantry. “It was easy for me to come to the pantry – my family shouldn’t have to suffer because I have too much pride to come. I have a daughter to worry about.”

The experience Kaitlyn had at the pantry was a positive one. “Many people think they’ll be judged or that its like the welfare system where they have to wait for hours to be helped. It’s not like that at the pantry. Everyone there cares a lot about the people who have to come in and they give them the help they need when they need it.”

She compared her experience with Helena Food Share to the experience she’d had volunteering at other food banks in bigger cities – the biggest difference being the chance clients have to pick their own groceries. She’d seen places where clients were given a bag of groceries with no choice, which could cause problems for people with dietary restrictions, causing waste with foods they simply couldn’t eat. Kaitlyn was able to select foods she could make meals with. “Here, they actually give you foods you can cook with – homemade meals are important and you can feed your family something good.”

Kaitlyn was even able to pick up food for her cats because of the partnership between Helena Food Share and Pad for Paws.

The impact of Kaitlyn’s visits to the pantry has been a positive one. “No one is judgmental or looks down on you. Everyone there is a good person who really cares.” She has even been a volunteer at the pantry since moving back to town. She’s impressed with the rapport everyone has and how positive the relationship is between staff and volunteers and how upbeat the atmosphere is. “Everyone is there because they want to be, not because they have to be. It makes a big difference in the atmosphere at the pantry.”

Kaitlyn isn’t relying on the pantry anymore and she’s optimistic about recent changes in her life. She’s finally received her checks from Nevada, has been fully employed, completed her Flagger’s license and she and her daughter are doing well. “I have to be upbeat – you have to get back up on your feet and you can’t allow room for negativity. Things are looking up.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.