As a kid, Gina never imagined being rich or having a lot of money when she grew up. She also didn’t see herself enrolled in public assistance programs or shopping at a free market. That’s partly because she didn’t think she would be divorced and raising two boys in her mid-30s.
“It’s hard when, like, sometimes my sons’ friends want to go somewhere (that costs money) and I’m like, oh, well this bill’s about to go through. And then I’m the one saying no and then their friends will offer to cover it and I can pay them back. But I hate being that person so that’s tough.”
As a stay-at-home mom before her divorce, it has been a challenge finding a good-paying job that also allows her to manage the needs and schedules of her 11 and 9 year old sons. She loves the job she did find, working for the school district as a special education paraprofessional, but it’s a challenge every paycheck–every day–to make ends meet. While energy assistance and Medical Assistance help, her income is still too high to qualify for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that offsets grocery bills.
Gina first learned about the Open Cupboard and its Today’s Harvest free, fresh market while swapping stories of struggle and solution with a neighbor who was unexpectedly caring for two nephews, four children in total. She told Gina how helpful the Open Cupboard had been to them.
Still, it took Gina a few months to walk through the open door. “I had no idea how much food you got. I thought maybe it would just be like a couple little things I could throw in my kids’ lunch box. I assumed it might not be that helpful. But the day I finally came, I left thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am leaving with two grocery bags.’ I try to come most days when it works. Especially in the summer because I don’t work during the summer, so it’s been a huge help.”
Trips to Today’s Harvest, or ‘the food place’ as her sons call it, provide around 75 percent of their household groceries, especially produce.
“Here, because I’m not spending the money I don’t have to limit them as much as far as what they pick, versus a grocery store where it’s like, no, we’re not going to buy that today we’re really here for this. Especially fruits and vegetables. They get a little more freedom of choice. They like that. They love coming here.”
Shopping at Today’s Harvest helps Gina say yes to certain things that she might not otherwise be able to. That might be going to the movies as a family. Or it might mean filling up the gas tank. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture households like Gina’s earning lower incomes spend more than 30 percent of their income on food and groceries. That’s compared to the 7 percent higher income-earning households spend. Help with groceries creates real relief for families.
For Gina, Today’s Harvest brings peace of mind and reduced stress. The market’s hours of operation–open 40 hours over six days–means she can visit when she needs to or is in the area, without the stress of remembering or working within limited hours. The ease of the experience, how welcoming staff and volunteers are, makes shopping enjoyable, for her and her family.
“I don’t want my kids to know about my struggles. I remember growing up and we didn’t have a lot of money either. I remember knowing we almost lost our house. And you know your parents don’t tell you that kind of stuff but you figure it out, you overhear conversations. I don’t want them to ever feel that kind of stress.”