Mary Kay Caldwell

October 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

Mary Kay's daughter, Rickeetra, and granddaughter

Mary Kay Caldwell fell twice at fifteen-feet and once at thirty-feet while installing telephone poles for the US Army. She sustained permanent injuries to her spine, and has been wheelchair-bound four times. Even though she is a disabled veteran, Caldwell says she didn’t receive disability compensation from the government for 23 years. Without this compensation, it was hard for Caldwell to buy food for herself and her nine children. “I joined the army when I was 17 years old. I was pursuing a career with benefits for my family. I never thought I’d be disadvantaged with them not compensating me.”

Caldwell held various desk jobs, but her income wasn’t enough to be self-sufficient. She turned to food pantries, government sponsored programs, such as food stamps and WIC, and her family for additional assistance. “I wait for contributions from family members, usually after they received their income tax return. But usually I go to the food pantries.”

For the last six years, Caldwell relied on the Church Food Pantry on Loyola Lane, which serves residents of Northeast Austin. Depending on the monthly cost of her utility bills, Caldwell may come to Church Food Pantry once-a-month or once every two weeks. Unfortunately for many people with limited incomes, money allotted for groceries is a low priority. Now that she receives a veteran’s disability compensation, she no longer qualifies for other forms of government assistance. “I’m in the middle. I get enough benefits to not qualify for food stamps, and at the same time, I don’t get enough to suffice. The pantries help a lot.” Today, Caldwell lives with her two sons, ages 13 and 14, whom she describes as having “tremendous appetites.”

Mary Kay parks using her handicapped tag

Her other children are now young adults and some have babies of their own. Caldwell says she has five “grands,” her affectionate nickname for her grandchildren. She teaches her children about food pantries and different resources that are available to them. “I find a lot of adolescents in my community are in similar situations and some are making poor choices in order to get money.  I don’t want this to happen to my kids. I’m teaching them to go to the pantries and get the produce and canned goods to help balance their budgets. I encourage those with children to get assistance from WIC prior to buying groceries. This helps to stay within a budget.”

Places like Church Food Pantry are feeding the adults and children in poverty stricken neighborhoods. What would these areas look like without the generosity of food pantries? The answer to this question might come soon. Because of the lack of funding, Church Food Pantry is in danger of closing. Jaime Gonzalez is a volunteer at Church Food Pantry and says that more and more people are coming every week. “Jobs are diminishing and families aren’t able to pay for food. In fact, people ask me if there is a place where they can go to work,” he said. “There aren’t many construction jobs anymore (which is where the majority of the Latino men in this neighborhood are employed.) Women are coming in and needing food for their families because their husbands are losing their construction jobs. People are losing jobs across the community.”

Many Church Food Pantry clients are able to walk from their homes to the pantry to get bags of groceries. If the pantry closes down, the families without cars and without jobs will have an even harder time finding ways to feed their families. But for now, clients such as Caldwell are thankful for Church Food Pantry’s ten years of existence. “I’m grateful that this pantry is a part of the Capital Area Food Bank’s process to help this community and I feel they really go far beyond the call of duty.”

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