Some days, when Keisha would step up to the grocery store checkout counter, she wondered what others around her might assume. “When I took out my card, I felt like people were looking at me thinking, ‘Why does she have her hair done and she’s using food stamps?’” She didn’t understand some of the opinions she’d heard people voice about food assistance. “I’ve heard people say there should be restrictions on the types of food people can buy, like shrimp,” she says. “It’s like because you’re receiving assistance, you still can’t live, you still can’t eat.”
Keisha hadn’t always needed assistance. After graduating high school, she attended college but needed to work full-time in order to pay for it. She eventually put her education on hold and started a career as a payroll specialist.
She wanted to return to school, but she was busy with 11-hour workdays followed by helping three kids with homework in the evenings. Plus, her job provided health coverage for her children. A coworker suggested that Keisha’s family could be supported by government assistance, but this option felt uncomfortable. “I worked … my kids weren’t going to be on Medicaid,” she insisted, until her coworker reminded her that it would only be temporary.
Keisha took a step and resigned from her position in March 2019. “It was the scariest thing I’d ever done,” she remembers, but in just a year, she earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting. She was hoping to land a position with a local payroll company, but her face-to-face interview was canceled because of a pandemic sweeping the globe. “I was so close to going back to work,” she says, “and it didn’t happen.”
Within days, the barber shop where her husband worked was closed. With the kids being out of school and home all the time, grocery bills were climbing. “Things got really tough for us,” Keisha remembers.
Their family was able to get assistance along the way. The kids’ school introduced Pandemic EBT cards, and their family was also eligible for additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. “Without that, we would have been struggling to feed our family of five,” she says. “It helped just knowing there are tools out there to support you.”
In summer 2020, Keisha was notified about a part-time payroll coordinator position. She was hesitant to take on a part-time role since being employed again would cause her to lose her benefits. However, she took a chance and started the new position in August 2020. Within just a few months, Keisha was promoted to senior staff accountant, a full-time position with benefits to help support her family.
Looking back over the past year — the concerns about leaving her job, looking for work during the pandemic and needing to apply for benefits — Keisha says there were three things that kept her going. One was her kids. “Not wanting them to say, mom didn’t finish school, so we don’t have to either.” Another was her husband. “When I would start stressing, he would remind me to focus on school and assure me that things were going to be OK.” Finally, Keisha kept herself going by continuing to focus on her goal. “That full circle feeling for myself, knowing that I did it,” she says. “I started it, and I finished it.”
It’s incredible to discover a person’s story for the first time, and it wasn’t until Keisha had joined the Foodbank in August that we had an opportunity to learn her story. Keisha also didn’t know a whole lot about the organization when she started part-time, but she began to feel like it was a place where she could belong. “When I heard Ruth talking about feeding the line and ending the line, something clicked, and I realized … that’s me,” Keisha remembers. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve had a sense of fulfillment knowing the mission of the Foodbank and everything that takes place.”