Feeding Pennsylvania promotes and aids our member food banks in securing food and other resources to reduce hunger and food insecurity in their communities and across Pennsylvania.
Twice a month, Kiara Rivera walks out of her apartment around 11:50 a.m., crosses the street, and enters her local food pantry at Crispus Attucks Community Center in Lancaster, PA, where she volunteers unloading a delivery truck of food, and helps organize and stock the shelves. Volunteering is her way of giving back for the support she receives since being diagnosed with a serious medical condition.
For seven years, Rivera had been experiencing multiple partial seizures daily, and grand mal seizures while she slept at night. Finding a solution to calm her seizures was no easy task. In fact, Rivera went to three different doctors before being sent to Hershey Medical Center. That trip involved a week-long testing period where she was diagnosed with mesial temporal sclerosis – scarring in the inner portions of the temporal lobe section of the brain, which can cause a form of epilepsy. Treating the diagnoses required brain surgery.
While the brain surgery wasn’t a fix-all solution, the daytime seizures have subsided for the most part; however, they still occur regularly at night. The major side-effect from the surgery has been the loss of short-term memory. This memory loss presents daily struggles for Rivera.
“I don’t remember what I have done,” Rivera says. I don’t remember if I have turned things off or if I have locked the door. I find myself getting out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure. I have to check everything.”
And while memory loss, along with waking up nauseous and with the taste of metal in her mouth is concerning, her struggles do not end there. Kiara was previously employed with McDonald’s, but due to her medical condition, the 28-year-old Lancaster native can no longer work. Therein lies the challenge. How can she provide for herself and her 10-year-old son Jayden without working? Where does the next meal come from? If it wasn’t for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Rivera isn’t sure what she would do.
Because of her condition and inability to work, Kiara receives help through social security disability. That help allows her to pay for the cost of living, but leaves little when it comes to buying groceries.
“I’d be nowhere right now (without SNAP). I wouldn’t have any food at the house. With all the money I have going to paying rent and bills, I would have nothing because I can’t work and can’t make money to pay for food. I’m just very thankful.”
SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is the largest nutrition assistance program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program has played a critical role in improving the health and well-being of hungry Americans. Approximately 64 percent of SNAP recipients are either children, the elderly, or disabled adults. Of the remaining recipients, two-thirds either work full time, are caretakers, or are participating in a training program. SNAP benefits can only be spent on food.
Sharing her story
In January, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited Central Pennsylvania as the department laid out its focus for the 2018 Farm Bill. Perdue was part of a roundtable discussion at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg, PA. Much of the conversation centered around SNAP funding – a critical part of the Farm Bill. Rivera was at the table and while sitting across from Secretary Perdue, got emotional when sharing her story about how important SNAP is in her life.
“It was hard for me to talk about my circumstances there in front of everyone,” says Rivera. “I don’t like that kind of thing. And it’s hard to talk about my condition, but I was able to share my story and tell him that I’m not able to work because I had brain surgery, so I volunteer and do what I can do to give back, and I am very thankful for the benefits I receive.”
Giving back is her job
Cheryl Holland-Jones of Crispus Attucks Community Center in Lancaster, PA has become very familiar with Rivera. When the food truck arrives at their food pantry, she has grown accustom to seeing Rivera ready to work.
“Kiara helps out with the food bank and hands out food,” says Holland-Jones. “She is a very humble, very gracious type of person. The food bank is open the second and fourth Wednesday of the month and she is here every time. We’ve really gotten to know her over this past year. She’s truly the type of volunteer you look for. Kiara approaches volunteering for us as a job. And she helps out with other youth programs too.”
“We live across the street and one day my son and I went over to see if there was anything we could do,” says Rivera. “I can’t just sit inside and do nothing. I noticed they have a lot of older people volunteering that couldn’t do it all themselves. I wanted to help and they needed help.”
Rivera’s story is just one of the many stories out there about families and individuals who face difficult changes in their lives and have to turn to SNAP benefits to make ends meet and provide for their families. While Rivera may never be able to work again, volunteering has become her job. She may continue to face many struggles along the way, but one thing she made clear was that having SNAP available is something that helps Rivera make at least one part of her life more stable, knowing she has food available for her family.
– Brett Smith, Feeding Pennsylvania. BSmith@FeedingPA.org
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