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Jenny's Story: Learning to Ask for Help

By Lara Cerri

Jenny thought she was the last person who would ever need to ask for help. She and her husband Rick, both 38, were well taken care of growing up. "I was usually the one giving the help," she said, "asking for help was new to us."

But in August of 2020, as Maricopa County was coming out of its first COVID wave, Jenny had to leave her job as an election worker and become a stay-at-home mom, asking for help for the first time. Her husband, Rick, had been working as many hours as he could as a sports arena security guard in a time when athletic games came to a halt. Still, he was barely making enough to take care of the family.

"We didn’t want to reach out to anybody," said Jenny. "There are other people less fortunate." But their son’s school psychologist reached out to tell her that food boxes were available from Caring Coalition. She accepted even though it was hard for her. "It was more of a pride thing," she said. "It makes me feel bad to ask for help."

In their rented two-bedroom, one-bath apartment, they couple found themselves not only caring for their two kids, ages 7 and 15, but also for her two older teenagers from a prior relationship. "The two other kids are over a lot," says Jenny. "A lot was going with them," she added. "I love having them around," she said, "but we didn’t have enough food."

Even though they had fallen on hard financial times, their family benefitted by spending more time together. "There were a lot of unexpected things that happened," she said. "Our family ties improved." Lisa and her mom also became closer.

Her youngest son, Benjamin, has autism and has had difficulties doing distance learning. "He was missing school so bad," said Jenny. "He’s happier when he gets to see people." The pandemic has been most difficult on the sweet blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid who always wears a smile. "He doesn’t make connections on the screen," she said. "He needs to be in person to connect with you."

Benjamin also has a hard time keeping a mask on, as it’s difficult for him to understand why people wear them. "My son needs me more than a job needs me," said Jenny, describing how she had to be in the same room with him anytime he Zoomed into class.

As of spring break, the kids are finally going to school in person, but now she has to drive her kids to and from school, and her husband to and from work. The family has only one car, and she still has too many family obligations to go back to work.

She says her son likes to greet visitors who bring them mail and packages. "Benjamin is so excited when you (Caring Coalition volunteers) come," she said. "He waits by the door, looks out the window and says, 'Is that them?' " The 7-year-old puts on his shoes and waits by the door. Then he walks out as the family dog, Apollo, a 55-pound black and white muscular dog, strolls across their front yard and follows him. "He wants to know why you are here and what your name is," she said.

With the help of weekly food box deliveries since last summer, "we didn’t have to stress about how to feed the kids," she said. Her advice to other families who hesitate to ask for help is to "swallow pride and reach out," she said. "Don’t ever feel like you can’t ask for help."

"It’s hard to have our kids watch us struggle," she said. But with the help of food stamps and boxes from Caring Coalition, "we’re in a good place now."

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