Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series about East Valley residents served by the United Food Bank.
As the holidays near, celebrations and family gatherings center around elaborate meals, but for some food is a daily concern, a condition that has worsened in the past few years along with the economy.
For Mesa’s United Food Bank, it’s a daily mission to ensure no one in the East Valley goes hungry, a daily mission to nourish hope among those in need.
The United Food Bank works with more than 225 partners including food pantries, soup kitchens and religious organizations in Maricopa, Gila, Pinal, Navaho and Apache counties, according to spokeswoman Britany Statt.
The food bank provides more than 40,000 meals a day. Beyond traditional partners, it provides meals for other programs, including emergency food boxes that can be distributed by first responders, backpack programs for at-risk kids that provide meals during weekends and holidays, and Help Yourself, which is designed to help people stretch their dollar.
For one family, receiving food from the food bank means eating that day, said recipient Charlesetta Taylor, who receives a weekly food box from a local church.
“I just thank God there are places like this,” Taylor said of United Food Bank. “You never know what’s in store for you these days.”
Taylor, a 39-year-old Mesa resident, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease and other health issues, which have made it impossible to maintain a job, she said. The box full of canned goods and beans has supplemented her family’s diet sporadically for about a year.
“It makes it hard for me because I’m on a fixed income,” Taylor said. “I’m just trying to feed everyone.”
She also has two daughters who live with her, Domonique, 19, and Adrianne, 21, as well as Adrianne’s boyfriend. Dominique attends college while working full-time, but Taylor’s other daughter lost her job and had to move back home.
“No one is going to see your kid out on the street,” Taylor said. “As a mother, you do what you can.”
This Thanksgiving, Taylor was hoping she would be able to make a special meal.
“I want to do it, but being a realist, it might not be a reality this year,” Taylor said before the holiday. “But I’m not giving up hope yet!”
Meat is the most expensive grocery item, so finding a turkey would be a challenge, Taylor said.
And while her eldest daughter will soon begin a new job, Adrianne’s struggles only demonstrated something that her mom already knew: There is a difference between looking and finding a job these days.
“It’s the luck of the draw,” she said, shrugging. “They have the pick of who to hire.”
But while she wants her daughters to work, Taylor also acknowledges how far their family has come.
“It’s a real sense of accomplishment,” Taylor said. “I was 18 when I had my first daughter. Both of them are in college and don’t have kids. We’re close and we all have to work together like a team.”
The team has come through a lot, Taylor said. The family spent two years in a shelter.
“It was a scary time,” she recalled. “No one wants to live in a shelter.”
While Taylor’s own mother passed away at a young age from the same genetic kidney disease, she doesn’t plan on letting that happen to her.
While trying to keep her disease in check, she hopes to soon return to college herself to complete a medical assisting certificate. Because while Taylor uses the services of United Food Bank right now, it’s not how she plans on living the rest of her life, she said.
“I always make each day worth something,” she said. “I didn’t just veg out. It would be so easy to, but I can’t.”
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