Heather, age 32, is the mother of four children — three boys and one girl between the ages of one and ten. Her family lives in Bradley, but today she is visiting Merchant Street Food Pantry in Kankakee.
“I try to come every other week,” she says, brushing her blonde hair out of her eyes. “And I often look for other food pantries to see if there’s somewhere else I can go, too.”
Heather shares that insufficient income brought her to the pantry seven months ago. “My husband works full time, [but] between insurance, the house and car payments, and our four kids, there’s no way to feed everybody,” she says.
The family of six receives some assistance from SNAP, but the $150 per month in benefits is not enough.
“It’s a lot harder than people think,” Heather says. “They think especially if you get assistance, you’ve got what you need. But you still don’t make it. There’s always something missing, and often that’s the fresh fruits and vegetables because you can’t afford those.”
Produce is just one example of the food she takes home from the pantry, as well as meat. “At home, we eat a lot of chicken because we can’t afford much else,” she says. “And so when we come here [and] get a variety — beef, or sometimes they have fish — I can introduce these to my kids and hopefully balance their diet. [Right now] we have to say, ‘Oh, mac and cheese!’ every day, and I don’t want to give them just that.”
Heather is incredibly grateful for how Merchant Street Food Pantry and others like it in Kankakee County assist her in providing that balanced diet for her four kids.
“They’re helping complete the nutrition that as a mother I don’t have the ability to do with our income,” she says, tears collecting in the corners of her eyes and along her bottom lashes. “Hopefully this way my kids will grow up healthy and strong, thanks to people donating to and supporting these pantries — because not everyone has the ability.”
More than 17 percent of children in towns like Bradley and throughout Kankakee County are food insecure, meaning they don’t have consistent and reliable access to enough food for an active and healthy life. Food pantries, soup kitchens and feeding programs help ensure every child has a full plate and a full belly.
Just ask Heather. “It fills so many gaps,” she says. “[This] could be saving my kids’ lives mentally and physically. [It’s] saving their health. So…thank you.”