Faces of food insecurity: At home with three kids

Martha’s Vineyard services help family scrape by.


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.”

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

Faces of Food Insecurity archives
Faces of Food Insecurity: An introduction
Faces of Food Insecurity: At home with three kids
Faces of Food Insecurity: Age is only a number
Faces of Food Insecurity: The issue is vegetables
Faces of Food Insecurity: The caseworkers
Faces of Food Insecurity: Grateful for the grapevine
Faces of Food Insecurity: Project Bread




  1. The problems I see here is Sarah continues to have children she knows very well that she cannot feed and house properly. She also has a partner who is `illegal`.
    She has found every way possible to use all the services that we pay out of our taxes.
    I think this is all a shame but these are self inflicted wounds.
    She has a lot of nerve saying that “When you live here, I feel like you are either using the food pantry or you are well off”.
    Well Sarah I happen to not be well off by any means and never used the food pantry or any other public handouts. I have had only enough children that I knew that I could properly house and feed them.
    I have obeyed every law of our land except for one DWI many, many years ago.
    The problems I see here is Sarah continues to have children she knows very well that she cannot feed and house properly. She also has a partner who is illegal.
    She has found every way possible to use the services that we pay for out of our taxes.
    I think this is all a shame but these are self inflicted wounds.
    I think you get my drift.

    • The article does not say her partner is here illegally, but rather that he is not a US citizen. While I get your point, I think it is unfair to blame the recipient for accepting whatever assistance is available; rather, look to the enablers.

      • hanley
        I agree about the enablers. That’s why trump was able to use the laws to declare bankruptcy 4 times and stiff working people for about $20 billion. The enabler in that case was congress. Who do you think the enablers are here ?

        • Donald Trump has never declared personal bankruptcy, but he has sought bankruptcy protection for businesses controlled by him several times. Although a corporate bankruptcy filing often indicates that a business is in a perilous financial condition, it doesn’t necessarily sound the death knell for that business. The provisions of Chapter 11of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code allow businesses to find ways to reduce their debt and restructure their operations without having to be shut down and liquidated to satisfy debts — instead of closing their doors, businesses can stay open, pay their employees, and take in revenue while developing a budget and a repayment plan for creditors (subject to the approval of the bankruptcy court).Many of the United States’ largest and most prominent businesses have filed for (and emerged from) Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection one or more times, including General Motors, Charter Communications, Delta Air Lines, Kmart, Macy’s, and the Texas Rangers baseball team.

    • tis native—
      You say she continues to have children she cannot feed. Let me throw a wrench into that argument.. Do conservatives not deplore birth control ? Do conservatives want to defund planned parenthood ? Think about that “planned” part. Do Christians ( some people think this is a Christian country) want to outlaw abortion ? Let’s just take a leap here, and say that “Sarah” is from Brazil. Brazil is a predominantly Christian country. And lets assume that “sarah” is Christian. Do Christians not believe that children are the will of god ? A gift ? So who are you to criticize her ( or perhaps god herself ) for having children ?

        • Hanley–
          tis native said her husband was “illegal” — you pointed out that error to her, but I didn’t see you criticizing her for assuming.
          but to the point of tis’s comment– 3 kids are not a lot of kids– if the article said she had 10, I might agree with tis–. On the other hand , every family I know that has more than 5 kids credits god for their blessings–

      • dodndondon. If you want to make an argument that we should get rid of babies because we cant feed them or dont want them because we cant afford them then lets extend the argument to grandmothers or some elderly people that get in the way and are a nuisance. Yes there should be some planning if one cant afford to live here but Planned parenthood abortion aint one of them.

  2. There’s so much wrong with this story. We’d like to be “beach people” as well but we have that nasty four letter word called WORK that keeps getting in the way.

    • bs —
      can you spell “homemaker” ? here is a woman raising her kids, a noble endeavor in my liberal mind–Isn’t that one of the bedrocks of “family values” ? part of that is taking the kids to the beach. Healthy children are an investment in our society– I admire “sarah” for her work to provide healthy meals and a stable environment for her children. Excuse me for lecturing a conservative about family values, but that is the sad state of affairs these days. Chase the dollar, and neglect the kids—the new conservative values, I guess.

  3. Most of the people in line at the food pantry are seniors. After paying their medical bills, even social security takes 135/min out of there checks there is little left.

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