Faces of food insecurity: Age is only a number

Eighty-year-old Island native raises three generations of children.

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Nancy Cook, an Edgartown native, has full custody of her two great-grandchildren. Her family uses SNAP and other local food access resources. — Brittany Bowker

Updated August 30

Every month, Nancy Cook takes 2,000 recycled bottles and cans to the redemption center in Edgartown. In exchange, she brings home $100 to help offset the costs of feeding her family. Cook has full custody of her two great-grandchildren. She turns 81 this November.

“I’ve raised three generations of children,” Cook said in an interview with The Times. “I’ve learned to make it work.”

Cook was born and raised in Edgartown, where she lives with her daughter and two great-grandchildren. Bobby Joe is 10 and Dannie-Lynn is 7. “I love the Southern names,” she laughed.

Cook’s family benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which gives both kids about $200 per month. The family can use their SNAP cards at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Cook said she shops at Reliable Market or Stop & Shop, and sometimes she’ll go off-Island to Walmart. “Wherever there’s sales,” she said.

She also gets food from the Edgartown Council on Aging, or “the Anchors.” They give her bags of food, as well as vouchers to on-Island markets. She also gets fish from friendly fishermen at the Edgartown wharf. During the school year, the Charter School gives the kids free lunch.

“In the wintertime it’s easier,” she said. “It’s easier to cook. I make stews, spaghetti, chili, and Portuguese soup. I like to cook and bake, but in the summertime, it gets too hot for that.”

In summer, Cook makes a lot of salads. She also makes chicken and soups. The kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pickles, cereal, Pop-Tarts, and crackers. “The kids asked me, ‘Granny, will we ever see steak?’ And I said, ‘Someday.’” She picked up a package of cubed steak at Reliable.

“You can find it for $3-something,” she said. “I brought it home, cooked it up, and you would swear to God it was a big thick steak.They loved it.”

Cook said she’d do anything for Bobby Joe and Dannie-Lynn.

“These kids aren’t going to go without food — I love them too much. If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Cook said. “I’m trying to show these children. I’m not going to be here all the time, so I want to show them how to survive if you have to survive.”

Cook was employed by the town of Edgartown for about 44 years. She’s not working anymore, but wishes she could. “I still have it in me,” she said. “But I guess it’s good. This way I’m around to spend more time with [the kids].”

When asked if she’d consider moving off-Island where the cost of living is lower, she said, “I’m older. This is home. I’d rather be here.”

Cook said it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and you have to learn to do, and do without. Even so, she keeps the well-being of others outside her family in mind.

“If you were to come to our house and we had one biscuit, and you wanted something to eat, we’d cut it so each of us had a piece of the biscuit,” Cook said. “If I can help somebody, I will.”

“Have you ever had fried cabbage?” she asked. “Next time I’m in the area, I’m going to drop some by.”

This is part of an ongoing series about food insecurity on Martha’s Vineyard. Have a story to share? Email brittany@mvtimes.com.

Updated to correct the school Nancy’s great-grandchildren attend.