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Turning Lived Experience into Generosity

Person greeting food bank clients in their cars. Line of cars along a line of traffic cones, with a sign that says free food boxes.

For three years after she was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in the 1990s, Melanie lived on the edge of hunger and food insecurity. When her circumstances improved and she was able to help others, she did so in part by donating food to one of Food Bank of the Rockies’ mobile pantries in Grand Junction. 

“I’ve always had empathy for those who are struggling,” Melanie said. “I like to help.” 

Melanie’s father was in the military, and she spent much of her childhood in Japan. Together with her family and later throughout her own military career, Melanie has traveled to much of the world, often to work toward improving people’s lives in poverty-stricken areas. 

Due to a back injury she suffered in the military, Melanie was unable to work when she was discharged from the Air Force. She received $800 a month in temporary assistance from the Veterans Administration, but it was barely enough to survive. In Reno, Nevada, she moved in with another woman who was also a veteran, and who was also struggling. 

“At one point my friend had two food stamps — just two — and she told me to take them and get whatever I could because she knew I needed the food more than she did,” Melanie recalled. 

Food Bank of the Rockies boxes sitting on tables.

Things changed for Melanie when, after three years of deliberation, the VA ruled in her favor on the back injury and other health issues. The federal agency determined she had an 80% disability, which provides her with adequate — though not extensive funding — to live on. 

Having worked with people who were experiencing homelessness when she was younger, Melanie said she came to understand the stigmas that are too often attached to people who need help. “It’s gotten really bad over the past few years,” Melanie stated. “I’ve never been at rock bottom, but I understand the despair when you can’t get by. It’s horrible. Never ending. I’m grateful I’ve got a roof over my head.” 

After she obtained the additional funding through the VA, Melanie paid back her former roommate by treating her to a weekend at a spa. “All that time I was barely getting by, she was there for me,” Melanie explained. “I just wanted to say ‘Thank you.’” 

Afterward, she moved to Louisiana to live near her sister for a time. But she found she missed the West and moved to Grand Junction a little more than nine years ago. Shortly after moving, Melanie made her first visit to Food Bank of the Rockies with a friend who utilized the resources offered. That’s when Melanie realized she could give back through Food Bank of the Rockies. She’s been doing what she can to help her neighbors ever since.  

“Right when COVID first hit, I took some food to a food pantry in front of a church,” she recalled. “I would go every Tuesday after that. On Sundays and Mondays, I’d buy extra groceries, and I would take them and drop them off every Tuesday.” 

Recently, problems with her car’s engine have left her unable to travel to the grocery store, and then the food pantry. Because her health issues make it difficult for her to walk far, she added, “I’m home bound for now. I chalked it up to fate.” 

But that hasn’t eliminated her desire to help, at this time by telling her story and encouraging others to donate time, food or money to Food Bank of the Rockies. 

“I would say to anyone looking for a way to help, please donate to the Food Bank,” she said. “People are going hungry and they really need you.”   

Inspired by Melanie to help our Western Slope neighbors experiencing hunger? Donate today! 

 

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