Jessie Begay never expected to have a family. She never had children of her own. But after her sister died five years ago, that changed.
Jessie’s sister had been taking care of her two grandchildren. When she died, Jessie wasn’t going to let the grandchildren her sister loved so much – 9-year-old Deron and 10-year-old Miley – go into foster care.
Five years later, she considers herself their mom.
“The best thing about being their mom is just to see them happy and to see them grow,” Jessie said.
Part of ensuring the kids are happy is making sure they have enough to eat. And that can be hard.
Jessie works as a non-emergency medical transport driver, taking patients to and from appointments all over Arizona. Despite her long hours, she doesn’t get paid a lot.
“I worry about a lot of things,” she said. “I worry how I’m going to pay rent and how I’m going to put food on the table.”
During the summer, when the kids don’t get free breakfast and lunch at school, Jessie also worries about filling in that meal gap for Deron and Miley.
Even Deron knows it can be tough.
“In the summer, it’s hard because we don’t have the two meals each day that we normally get at school,” he said.
So, Jessie takes the kids to the Golden Gate Community Center, a summer camp in Phoenix. The center serves breakfast and lunch to the kids through a partnership with St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, a member of the Feeding America network.
“If we didn’t have the food from the community center, we wouldn’t eat as much in the summer,” Deron admits. “It helps us a lot.”
Sometimes, to supplement what the kids eat at Golden Gate, Jessie picks up groceries from a local food pantry working with St. Mary’s. She’ll do whatever she needs to make sure her kids have food to stay healthy.
“It’s not shameful to ask for help,” she said. “Because there’s always help available out there.”
Deron and Miley know how much Jessie does to take care of them and how much she loves them. And they’re happy to call her “mom” too.
“I’m really proud of her,” Deron said. “I appreciate her. She works really hard and on top of everything else, she helps us get food.”
Deron, age 9, and his sister Miley, age 10, went to live with their aunt Jessie when their mother passed away. Even though Jessie works full-time, there aren't always enough groceries to feed her new family. She visits her local food pantry whenever her family needs extra help to make make sure her kids have everything they need in their new life.