Hunger is stealthy. It can invade our lives in one crushing moment – a lost job, a debilitating accident, a serious illness. Hunger strikes 1 million New Jersey residents each year, hurting their health, their productivity and their ability to care for their families.
Here are stories from real New Jersey residents to illustrate how critically important it is to support food assistance for all those in need. We applaud their courage and thank them for sharing their stories.
A Good Worth Ethic
Like many families, good food was always at the center of Audrey Rollins’ family gatherings.
Growing up in a middle-class family in Morristown, Rollins never knew hunger – and never imagined she would need help to feed herself and her family.
That changed suddenly a few years ago, when she was injured on the job and began suffering from other health problems, including severe arthritis. Having worked since she was 17 years old, the very real prospect of not having enough money to buy food was frightening. She did not know how she would feed herself and her son.
“I was taught a strong work ethic,’’ Rollins says. “I have worked as a home health aide for many years. I have a diploma from Dover College and worked as a Medical Assistant for almost 21 years. ‘’
Luckily, Rollins was able to receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). That has been a Godsend.
“Without SNAP, I would not have been able to feed my family. SNAP has been a blessing,’’ Rollins says, adding that she is also grateful to the Interfaith Food Pantry in Morris Plains, which provides supplemental food when her SNAP assistance runs out.
“SNAP means the difference between missing a meal or not,’’ Rollins notes. “SNAP gives me peace of mind. The program helps me buy healthy foods and I can stretch those dollars at the grocery store and make a lot of meals for my son and me.’’
She urges members of Congress to protect SNAP for her family and others like her, whose fortunes can change in a tragic instant.
Her message to Congress: “This program helps your constituents — families, seniors and people with disabilities. Please, no caps, no cuts.’’
‘The American Dream’
Contina Wright and her family were living the American dream. She and her husband were both working. They owned their own home, had two cars and were able to enjoy some luxuries, like family vacations and the occasional dinner out.
She never worried about going hungry.
“That dream turned into a nightmare when my husband was laid off from his construction job and couldn’t find steady work for nearly two years,’’ Wright remembers. “I was still working, but one income was not enough.’’
Then, Wright was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and was also unable to work.
“We lived off our retirement and other savings so we were able to keep our heads above water for a while,’’ she explains. “But, as each month passed with no promise of steady work, our savings dwindled.’’
One day, there was nothing left.
During that terrible time, Wright applied for SNAP.
“Our SNAP benefits helped us put food on the table and make sure our children wouldn’t go to bed hungry and that they had the nutrition they needed to learn and grow,’’ she said. “Our youngest daughter, who is 7 years old, suffers from sickle cell anemia. The nutrition assistance we have received from SNAP allowed us to buy the fruits and vegetables she needs to stay healthy.’’
Now, Wright’s husband is back to work and she is attending school, with the goal of earning a Master’s degree.
“We are still getting back on our feet and have our struggles,’’ Wright says. “But I am hopeful for a bright future for my family. I am so thankful that SNAP assistance has been there for us when we needed it.’’
Wright has a simple message for Congress: “I want our representatives to remember that at any point in time this could be you. So, please do not cut this critical nutrition assistance program that helps so many families in our state.’’