​Grandparents Raising Kids Rely on Food Banks

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
Note: This is the first in a series of articles related to the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Club’s Hunger Walk on Sept. 1, which will raise funds for local food banks. The names of the grandparents have been changed to help protect the families’ privacy.
The 79-year-old woman canned soup–tomatoes, peppers, corn and onions–while her six-year-old was at school.
Anna and her husband, Charles, have raised their great-granddaughter since she was in diapers; the little girl’s parents were drug users, both in and out of jail.
“It was like God put her in my arms because I was standing there holding her when the police arrested them and took them away,” Anna said during a phone interview, canning while she talked. “Sometimes we’re not looking for something like this, but you know, she’s been a blessing to us. She’ll pray with us when we’re sick; she’ll lay her little hands on us and pray.”
Local food banks help grandparents like Anna and Charles feed themselves and the children they’re caring for.
Betty Carpenter, director of Community Action Committee (CAC) at Otey Parish in Sewanee, said about eight grandparents caring for grandkids pick up food from CAC.
“The grandparents are elderly and/or have significant health issues, which makes it difficult for them to work,” she said. “The situation comes from the parents being incarcerated or deceased. In most cases, this living situation was not planned but the grandparents provide the most stable environment.”
Amy Wilson, director of Morton Memorial UMC Food Ministry in Monteagle, estimated a significant number of grandparents who get food there are also raising kids who are not their own.
“The most common reason is because of drugs or the parent is in jail,” Wilson said.
Carpenter also cited drug problems as the primary reason that grandparents are now parents again.
“Once a grandparent working minimum wage was informed by DHS (Department of Human Services) that she had custody of five grandchildren and fortunately we can provide groceries for her,” Carpenter said. “Most of our grandparent stories follow those lines…parents in jail, grandparents have custody.”
Mary, who is in her late 50s, has raised her two teenage grandsons for much of their lives. The boys’ father is serving a long sentence in jail and their mother, a drug user, is dead. Mary has a job, but doesn’t make enough to provide sufficient food, she said, adding that she earns too much to qualify for food stamps. She comes to CAC for help.
“I couldn’t make ends meet. I couldn’t put food on the table if it wasn’t for this place,” Mary said.
Raising a child at their age is a challenge for Anna and Charles, but they say they’re doing the best they can with God’s help; faith is an integral part of their lives.
“I try to do everything I can to keep my baby happy,” Anna said. “I’m not ashamed to get out and play with her. If she wants me to get in the sand box or she wants me to help her build a playhouse, I’m going to do it.”
The great-grandparents are protective of the little girl and have lessened the trauma of losing both her natural parents and the damage they did before they left her. The little girl is healthy, Anna added, and doing well in school.
“I’m praying the Lord will let us stay with her for a good long while; I want to see that she gets big enough to know right from wrong and knows how to take care of herself,” Anna said.
For more information on the Hunger Walk, visit <monteaglerotary.org/hunger.html>.