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Employment Brings Relief To Food-Insecure Illinois Family

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All over the country leading up to this holiday weekend, there were long lines for food. There were cars lining up for miles at food distribution centers or people standing in long lines waiting their turn.

But this is not new. Back in September, we reported on the alarming rise in the number of Americans struggling to put food on the table this year. And as part of our reporting, we heard the story of Ja Nelle Pleasure, an Illinois artist and mother of three who was unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. She told our reporter that one of the ways she was managing was by growing her own vegetables.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JA NELLE PLEASURE: Oh, I'm cooking literally every day with something that I've grown - every day - which I absolutely love because it saves trips to the grocery store.

MARTIN: On this holiday weekend, we wanted to check in with Ja Nelle Pleasure once again to see how she and her family are doing now.

Ja Nelle, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

PLEASURE: Hey, no problem. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So do you mind if I ask? How was Thanksgiving? How was it?

PLEASURE: Oh, Thanksgiving was wonderful. We had so much food. It was absolutely ridiculous. And I think all of my children are still in a coma...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PLEASURE: And I'm halfway in a coma myself.

MARTIN: Well, that's great because back in October, you told us about visiting a food bank. And you talked about...

PLEASURE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Like, the embarrassment, you know, your children in particular felt at collecting food from a place where your family used to volunteer. And you also...

PLEASURE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Talked about the different ways you are fighting to make a dollar stretch. Like, we heard earlier about your growing food in your garden, which is great. But, you know, you were very honest about the fact that it wasn't easy. So how are things now? How are things going?

PLEASURE: You know, I will say things are going a lot better now. I'm not going to say that, you know, like, we're out of the woods, and it's super-great. But, I mean, we were able to get resources, and I was able to get a job. So I'm now working and able to work from home. And, you know, our situation is looking up. And it's been anything short of a miracle for our family. So I'm really blessed. We're really, really lucky.

MARTIN: So glad to hear that. Yeah, so glad to hear that. Do you mind if I ask, like, how long was it that you went without paid employment?

PLEASURE: About two years. I had suffered a stroke two years ago, so that's kind of what snowballed all of this.

MARTIN: And, you know, finding a job during this period when a lot of businesses are scaling back or shutting down has not...

PLEASURE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Been easy. So great that you were able to get a job, you know, even during these circumstances. So that's great. And one of the things that we appreciated about your speaking with us is that you kind of broke it down for us. I mean, you pointed out that you were juggling all the time. Do I pay the electric bill, or do I buy food? Are you still having to make those kinds of choices, you know?

PLEASURE: You know, I'm still having to make those choices. But I will say it's a lot easier to make that choice when you know you have the security of a job. So, you know, I try to hold to the fact that, you know, we're going to be OK. But if push comes to shove, and I had to make that choice again, I don't know what I would do. I know that I can call the power companies and, you know, the electric places and say, hey, can you guys work with me?

And, you know, some companies will work with people. Others aren't as willing to work with people, which doesn't make any sense, especially during a pandemic. You know, I've heard of people getting their water shut off and their power shut off even though they tried to make moves to try to say, hey, you know, I'm going through a rough patch right now, as is everybody. Is there a way you can work with me?

So there's that fear and worry that, you know, I won't be able to make the choice that I have over, you know, the summer. But I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that I won't have to make that decision again. I won't have to choose between food or lights for my kids or food and heat for my kids. You know, yes, we can put on more layers and things like that, but I don't want to have to make that choice. And I know a lot of people are still struggling with that.

MARTIN: How are the kids doing?

PLEASURE: They're great. You know, they're a little stir-crazy because, you know, we're stuck in the house. I mean, they get out. You know, we go to the park sometimes. It's been a little warm. But I'm doing the best that I can to make sure that they at least have a smile on their face, even if it's, like, just for a little bit.

MARTIN: Sure. Well, of course. Sure. Before we let you go, you'd mentioned that you had been - with the sort of the summer growing season coming to an end and over the summer that you had been trying to preserve food to kind of put up for the winter. Do you want to give me any inventory? What have you got in that larder there?

PLEASURE: (Laughter) So right now, I've got tons of pickles. We've got radishes. We've got beans. I've got some squash that we've kind of put away and frozen, some onions, some garlic. I have a lot of things like that.

MARTIN: Well, that's great. So do you think you have enough for the winter?

PLEASURE: Well, maybe not the winter. My kids and I, we eat kind of like linebackers on a football team...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PLEASURE: ...Even though we look really small. So, you know, it may not get us through the entire winter. But it definitely will get us, you know, to a point where we'll be good, we'll be comfortable.

MARTIN: All right. Well, keep in touch. We'll keep in touch if you keep in touch.

PLEASURE: I will definitely keep in touch with you guys.

MARTIN: That was Ja Nelle Pleasure. She is an artist and a mother of three. We last spoke with her on this program in October, and we reached her today at her home just outside Champaign, Ill.

Ja Nelle Pleasure, thanks so much for talking to us.

PLEASURE: Hey, thanks for having me, guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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