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Food, Health, News

Hunger Series: ‘These are the things that make you human’

(Spenser R. Hasak)

MARBLEHEAD — Her name is not really Joyce, but the 54-year-old mother of a teenager who lives in a town public housing apartment said attaching her name publicly to a story about hunger risks stigmatizing her son.

“We live in a community where status is everything,” she said.

Joyce and her 15-year-old live on $1,400 a month and most of that money is in the form of the Supplemental Security Income check she receives because she is legally blind. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly known as Food Stamps — and child support payments don’t stretch far enough for her to feed her son and herself.

She spends roughly $100 a month to supplement the produce, bread and other items she buys with SNAP benefits. She visits the Marblehead Food Pantry in Our Lady, Star of the Sea’s community complex once a week.

“We’re not big meat eaters but the pantry has a meat choice each week and it helps make the cash stretch further,” she said.

The Cambridge native and her son live in a two-floor apartment. The unit’s two bedrooms are small but their home is a far cry from the 11 months Joyce spent in the Lynn Shelter in 2006 and 2007. Divorce meant she had to move out of her marital home in Revere. She lived in the downtown shelter with her toddler son and nine other families even as she applied for public assistance and admittance into North Shore Community College.

The school accepted her application and Joyce earned a certificate in human services. She moved with her son to a rent-controlled apartment in Peabody. She earned a degree at Salem State College and applied for a Marblehead public housing apartment. She has relied on the pantry to help supplement her family’s meals for eight years.

Her education led to a job as a social worker at the Lynn shelter in 2013, but health problems pulled her out of the workforce, forcing her to watch every dollar. She pays $400 a month toward her rent as well as utilities. Her disability entitles Joyce to a free transit pass but without the pantry she said the simple things that allow her son to blend in with his peers — the right sneakers, a YMCA membership, some spending money — would be beyond her reach.

Occasionally she adds a jar of peanut butter or box of cookies to her pantry choices.

“These are the things that make you human,” she said.

Joyce hopes she is well enough to return to work soon, but she said the 60 to 70 people who rely on the Marblehead pantry every week include two-income families.

“It’s kind of a stigma, but this pantry helps all sorts of people in this community,” she said.

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