She could be your mother. Or your grandmother. As it is, though, Vara* – who spent lots of years surrounded by children – doesn’t have any. She has no living family, in fact.
“42 years!” She reminisces about her tenure as an art teacher in the local public school system. Now, the 83-year-old former educator is living alone in the same home her late husband built years before, walls hung with elaborate oil paintings that bear her signature.
“I run into my former students. They say, ‘Oh, Mrs. S., you look wonderful! How are you?’ I don’t tell them, ‘Well, you know, I’m food-insecure.'”
Vara is an active senior, a celebrated volunteer around town, and a transplant recipient. She underwent the life-saving surgery in her 70s and has been struggling with hunger since. “Right now even, I have more medicines on the countertop than I have food in the fridge.”
Like many of those struggling with hunger across Worcester County, Vara found herself making the hard choice between food and something else…medicine, rent, utilities. “It wasn’t much of a choice, really. I didn’t have enough money for food and medicine, and I knew I couldn’t take any less medicine and live. So, I started eating a bit less.”
By other accounts a lot less. Vara lost weight and struggled with depression.
Still, she stayed active in the community. “I was volunteering with a new moms’ program at my church, teaching them about resources they could turn to for help with food, and I never asked the question: Could these pantries help me, too?”
When she asked, she learned they could – and they did. Vara supplemented with food from the pantry, regaining the weight she’d lost, eating more fruits and vegetables. A pantry volunteer even provided her with information about SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and fuel assistance. She enjoys a community meal with other seniors once per week. Money is still tight, Vara says, “But I’m no longer in actual pain. Hunger was really hurting me.”
“I say that surgery gave me quantity of life, and the pantry made sure it was quality. Without the pantry, without the community, where would I be?”
Worcester County Food Bank provides donated food to a network of 118 Partner Agencies across Worcester County, including the one the Vara turns to for support. We help keep pantry shelves stocked with the good food neighbors need. We also advocate for policies and programs that decrease hunger and improve access to healthy food. Help us make meal time brighter for neighbors like Vara this #GivingFood Day.
*Name changed at her request