Maryann McLendon, her daughter Gina and fiancé Chris Lang are cooking healthier meals since enrolling in a food assistance program.
By Maryann McLendon
Photography by Barry Staver
EDITOR'S NOTE: Maryann McLendon, 30, lives in Aurora. She now earns $800 a month as an AmeriCorps VISTA member assigned to Hunger Free Colorado.
After I lost my job at Raytheon four years ago, my family really struggled. My daughter Gina was just 1 year old at the time, and my fiancé and I did everything we could to make ends meet.
This was a very difficult adjustment. Unemployment was not covering the bills. I had to make sacrifices. Eventually, I ended up filing for bankruptcy. I had to surrender my car. I relied on my parents a lot to help us financially, which was a burden on them.
We also ate as cheaply as we could. I shopped the "inside" aisles at the store – I couldn't afford the fresh meat, produce and dairy you find in the "outside" aisles. We obtained some fresh foods from a food bank, but when those ran out, we relied on pasta and other inexpensive, starchy foods.
Finally, when my unemployment ran out, I decided to apply for food stamps [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP]. At the time, I didn't want to, and I really didn't think I needed to. The thought was humiliating. I hoped maybe I could just keep on doing what I had been doing to get by.
But in the end, my daughter motivated me to swallow my pride. She wasn't eating properly. And I didn't want to place that burden on my family anymore.
Because I had started volunteering more after I stopped working, I began to realize there were more and more people like me getting onto these programs. I decided applying for food stamps would be the best move, so I did it for my family. I stepped up and got on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, food stamps and Medicaid. And it all has helped my family immensely.
That was two years ago. Today, we get $526 a month in food stamps for a family of three. And that extra money has made all the difference. Without it, I don't think we would have a place to live.
Now, we eat healthy meals. We eat fruits and vegetables every day. We don't rely on frozen food as much as we did before. And my daughter is thriving. Before, her iron count was low. Now she has stabilized, and she's right where she's supposed to be. I think that's due to us being able to have money for food.
But beyond that, my fiancé and I were at each other's throats before we began getting assistance. We fought all the time. Our daughter acted out all the time. Now that we have more consistency in our lives, we're more at peace with one another. It has helped immensely to cope with the stress.
I am completely fine with being on food stamps, especially now that I know more about the program. It has a positive impact on the economy. It creates jobs at the grocery store and keeps them open due to increased revenue. There's a lot about this program that I didn't know two years ago. I'm glad I know about it now.