Sixty-four-year-old Jodi sits quietly in her living room on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, her hands steadily at work as she sews an outfit for a stuffed pig. “I sewed the pig first, and now I’m making it an outfit,” she says cheerfully. Most of her days are spent this way—sewing, reading or watching her favorite TV shows. “I try to keep my mind occupied,” she says. “And I’ve got my kitty cats. They’re a lot of company.”
She doesn’t receive a lot of visitors these days. “Now that I’ve gotten to be a senior citizen, it feels like nobody really wants to be around you,” she says. Her kids are grown and stay active with their own kids’ extracurricular endeavors, and her husband works a lot. Even though her days are quiet, she remains optimistic. “I try to put my best foot forward. I’m doing fairly good for an old lady that’s been through hell,” she laughs.
Jodi has lived and worked on the Shore all her life. She was a cosmetologist for more than 20 years before going back to school to become a nurse. Just before she started the program, however, she was diagnosed with cancer at only 37 years old.
She began radiation treatments and underwent major surgery just two months before starting classes. Complications from her treatments required her to receive blood transfusions three days a week as she was earning her degree. “But I maintained a B average,” she says with a grin.
In 1996, she graduated from nursing school and worked in different hospitals and nursing homes until February 2017 when the medical facility where she was employed suddenly went out of business.
She filled out the necessary forms to begin collecting unemployment, but the very next month, she fell and broke her leg. “I haven’t been able to work since because I can’t get around very good,” she says. Jodi can walk short distances using a walker but otherwise relies on a wheelchair. The injury has rendered her unable to receive unemployment. Six months after breaking her leg, she started collecting disability, but it’s not enough to get by.
Jodi relies on her husband’s assistance for most routine activities, like bathing, getting dressed and preparing meals. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be in a nursing home,” she says. “He has so much to do, but he don’t seem to mind. He’s a good man.”
She and her husband have dietary restrictions stemming from health issues. After complications from radiation treatment, Jodi is now on a no-fiber diet, which vastly limits the options of fruits and vegetables she can eat. Her husband suffers from a thyroid condition, which has caused him to lose a substantial amount of weight.
Their biggest challenge with food, however, is not having the money to buy it.
They’ve benefited from the Foodbank’s food distribution, although Jodi relies on her husband to pick up the foods since she can’t get out on her own. Most days, he can’t afford to take off work to be at the Foodbank during distribution times, leaving them to choose between dollars and free food. “Trying to get food on the table is a challenge,” she says. “When you lose a large income, anything helps.”
When she was working, Jodi was the major breadwinner of their family. “I went from a great big salary to $1,200 a month,” she says. Down to one salary and faced with a mountain of medical bills from combined health issues, the couple struggles to get by.
Jodi and her husband experience some of the same challenges as nearly 5 million senior citizens in our country. After a lifetime of hard work, 63 percent of households with older adults that Feeding America serves find themselves having to choose between groceries or medical care.
The couple is left to make sacrifices wherever they can to get by. When they don’t have the means to buy something, they have learned to simply do without and rely on items they’ve stored in the freezer for emergencies. “It’s things you don’t particularly want,” she explains, “but it fills the hole up.”
Jodi’s goals for their future are modest—she doesn’t want her or her husband’s health to decline further, and she hopes to be able to walk again one day. Until then, she’s determined to make the best of their situation. “I don’t sit around and harp on being sick and not feeling good,” she says. “There’s just no need.”