This is part of a series describing the faces of food insecurity on Martha’s Vineyard. In order to maintain privacy, the subject’s name in the following article has been changed.
Sarah is a mom on the go. “We’re not the kind of family that can sit in the house all day,” she said, gently rocking her 15-month-old daughter back and forth in her arms. “We’re beach people.”
Sarah lives in an upstairs garage studio in Vineyard Haven with her partner, 7-year-old son, 5-year-old daughter, and 15-month-old baby. “We’ve had our ups and downs here,” Sarah said of the space. “But it’s something.”
Like many families on Martha’s Vineyard, Sarah’s fights to make ends meet. The cost of living is much higher here — about 20 percent higher than the rest of the state, Island Grown Initiative director Rebecca Haag told The Times in a previous interview.
“It’s expensive, but we happily live here,” Sarah said. “The kids have a great set of friends, the Island is a safe place for them, and between all the community connections we’ve made so far, I really don’t see us uprooting.”
Sarah cleans homes, and is a homemaker for the elderly. But she also has three kids, so she likes to be around. “I never had kids to put them in daycare,” she said. “I know people do that, but it’s not my thing.”
Her partner works in construction, doing roofing and siding. “In the summer, it’s steady work, but in the winter, he doesn’t have a ton,” she said. “Even now, you see he’s home. A lot of the August renters are in their houses, so they don’t want anyone working. With his job, you never know when he’s going to have work.”
On top of that, Sarah’s partner isn’t a U.S. citizen. “The bosses can play with him getting paid,” she said. “He’s supposed to get paid every week, but then it turns to two weeks, and then three weeks, and sometimes months behind. He eventually gets paid, but the bosses think they can pull one over on certain people. During those times, we utilize the food pantry.”
Sarah’s family uses food-initiative groups like the Island Food Pantry, Serving Hands, Head Start, and the Boys and Girls Club.
“This year, thank goodness, Head Start would bring us a bag of food every week,” she said. “Boys and Girls Club does that too.”
Sarah’s family fell into the Head Start program, which is run through Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS). It is an at-home service that promotes school readiness for children and their families. It also facilitates health and developmental screenings.
“My oldest was sick with meningitis when he was a week old, so early intervention [another MVCS program] came to our house until he was 3,” she said. “From that, they recommended Head Start. So fortunately, well, unfortunately, that’s how we fell into it all. And when I had my other daughter, I knew to apply for Head Start.”
A Head Start home visitor taught Sarah’s family how to make more homemade meals. “They came over and taught us how to do applesauce,” Sarah said. “Which is perfect, because the food pantry gives you a bunch of apples. I’ve learned to make most of my meals at home, and that’s been a huge help price-wise.”
Sarah likes to rotate meals, and give her kids something different every day. Bacon and eggs are a hit in the morning, and so are homemade muffins, pancakes, and waffles. “Instead of buying Eggo waffles, I bought this waffle maker off MV Stuff for Sale, and now we make our own,” she said. “It’s nothing I grew up doing, but over the years I’ve learned it’s a lot cheaper.”
For lunch, Sarah usually whips together leftovers. “I’m just turning the kids on to sandwiches,” she said. “My [partner] is from Mexico, so they’re rice and beans kids. But with school starting up, we’re slowly trying to do sandwiches. Or chicken nuggets, which is their favorite, just like any other kid.”
Sarah buys most of her ingredients from Stop & Shop, which is the most affordable place to shop on-Island, she said. Her at-home staples are rice, dried beans, eggs, and flour. She noted the quality of the food distributed to her family. “It’s not junk food,” she said. “You’re getting stuff from farms — apples, potatoes, milk, eggs, and chicken. I feel good feeding this food to my family.”
As far as food insecurity goes, Sarah feels there’s a stigma, but that it’s starting to get better. “When you live here, I feel like you’re either using the food pantry, or you’re well off,” Sarah said. “There’s not a ton of middle ground. There’s years where we haven’t had to use the pantry so much, and years where we have. Worse comes to worst, you ask.”
Keep an eye out for the next in a series of articles that tell stories of food insecurity on Martha’s Vineyard. Have a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.