I grew up never going without...without food, shelter or hope. As a child, I would give to the local shelter kitchen at holidays and this just became a habit that has carried on to this day. But little did I know that one day I would be on the receiving end of the help. You see, seven and a half years ago I filed for divorce...it was a very ugly divorce, well is there any that aren't? At the time I was living an hour away from my parents, working for $9 per hour and taking care of two small children, also insert PG&E, water, mortgage, car payment....you get the picture. I was not receiving any financial support at all. The bank claimed the house and my parents had to buy me a car because I could not afford the payments on the vehicle I was driving so the bank took that too. I'm not gonna lie, it was really bleak. There were days that I went without lunch and dinner to make the food stretch for a day or two.
I know the pain of having very little money and trying to figure out how to pay the electric bill, put gas in my car to get to work so I could make money to buy a gallon of milk for the kids. Opening my refrigerator and to see empty shelves made me loose hope. Many nights I cried myself to sleep praying that things would get better. On the outside, no one knew of my struggle...I kept it hidden because I was embarrassed. I sat on a State Agricultural organization board and feared I would lose my position if I let on of my hard times.
The kids and I got creative, you may call that survival mode. There were several months during the winter that we had no heat in the house...propane and electricity is expensive...so we pretended to "camp" in our home. I know more ways to prepare ramen noodles than I care to admit. A friend of mine, when she realized what we were going through, took me to the county office to sign up for the local food bank. You see, I always believed that there were others in far more need that I, so I never utilized the service. That first visit I cried. I cried because I saw the lack of food that the food bank had to give....but not only the lack of food but it was also out dated and what little produce they had was almost spoiled. It pained me to be living in such a rich agricultural area and the level of produce for the taking was dismal. But what came out of that was hope...because when the shelves in the fridge and cupboard are full it gives hope.
Flash forward to last November.......the agricultural organization I belong to (California Women for Agriculture) was having a meeting in Monterey California, at the time I was the State President Elect. I no longer needed assistance from my local food bank, life had started to even out a bit and I was starting to share my story(struggle). Our speaker at the meeting was the Executive Director of a local organization called "Ag Against Hunger". I sat there and listened to the brilliant work they were doing and noticed the tears flowing from my eyes because this organization was giving hope. I started to follow Ag Against Hunger and noticed in May of 2014 they were looking for a Deputy Director. I immediately applied for the job, I may not have had all the qualifications but I knew the struggles and had "real world experience". As of today, I am the Executive Director of Ag Against Hunger.....I get to make sure there are families out there like my kids and I who have "hope" in their refrigerators and cupboards. I like to call AAH "the facilitators of hope"...we are NOT a food bank but rather the legs to get surplus produce to food banks in our tri county area and beyond. We have food banks from all over California, Arizona, Oregon to name a few states and even added Oklahoma. Everyday we are working hard to make a difference.
I am now the State President of California Women for Agriculture and I continue to share my struggle and encourage my fellow members to give to their local food banks. I am quick to remind that "hunger doesn't have a specific look" it could be anyone you know. I've learned so much from my journey, but most importantly is that you never know when you could need help and that it's a hand up not a hand out that we are giving. As hard as it was to go through all of struggle, it has only made me more focused to make sure no one goes without food/hope. Best, Lynn Figone Executive Director-Ag Against Hunger State President- California Women for Agriculture