Category Archives: Face of Hunger

Local veteran experiences homelessness and hunger

Donzella JohnsonDonzella Johnson never imagined being homeless and hungry. She did everything “right.” Graduated high school, obtained a clerical certificate from DelTech, enrolled in the Delaware National Guard, got married and started a family.

After serving as an Active Guard and Reserve Soldier for the Delaware National Guard for 29-plus years, Donzella retired in 2009. Suffering a spinal cord injury in 2000, Donzella looked forward to finally having surgery during retirement; however, issues with her VA benefits left her in a financial bind. To help make extra money she worked the overnight shift at the Walmart SuperCenter  in Middletown.

Six months after her retirement she became a homeless veteran. Donzella lost everything, including her comfortable four-bedroom home. She put what she could in storage, but after she couldn’t pay for the storage unit, the owner sold the contents of the unit – including her medals and awards from her time of service – for $975.00; the gentleman who bought it made close to $45,000 after selling the individual items.

Donzella’s story is not uncommon. In fact, according to the Hunger in America 2014 study, 30 percent of clients served by the Food Bank of Delaware’s network of Hunger-Relief Program Partners have at least one household member who has either served or is serving in the military.

Like many veterans, Donzella had difficulties finding a spot in a local shelter because she was single. Thankfully, her mother lives locally. Donzella stayed with her mother, sister, niece and great niece for some time. The house was full; she found herself sleeping in a twin bed with two adult children, on the floor or a friend’s couch.

Despite the living conditions, Donzella was determined to get back on her feet. She used her friend’s computer to look for a job, walked to the local library to apply for jobs and rode the DART bus to job interviews.

Having difficulties finding a job, Donzella turned to the Delaware National Guard’s employment services and Goodwill for help. A volunteer from Bank of America assisted with sprucing up her resume. She got a call for an interview with the Emergency Medicatl Services and Office of Preparedness located at Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill in Smyrna.  She walked to her interview and realized that she would have two more interviews before she secured a position there. She was hired and managed to walk to and from work everyday, no matter what the weather, for almost a year before anyone knew that she did not have a car.

Donzella worked to regain her financial footing, but pay-day loans left her financials in ruins. “It was about survival,” she said. “I didn’t think about the repercussions.”

A local landlord agreed to rent a townhouse to her. “He told me that he was renting based on my character, not my credit score.”

Donzella was thankful. She recalled her first night in her new home, “I had no bed and slept on the floor, but it was the most peaceful rest.”

Asbury United Methodist Church and St. Polycarp Church  in Smyrna helped Donzella get back on her feet. Ladies from the auxiliary brought towels, pots, pans and food. It wasn’t until April 2011 that she could afford her very first piece of furniture.

Making a good salary now, Donzella is still behind. She now owns a car and was finally able to have surgery for the injury she suffered more than a decade ago. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, she was able to purchase health insurance to cover the costs of her surgery. Now that she has fully recovered from surgery, Donzella describes herself as a totally different person. She can sleep at night and doesn’t suffer from headaches.

As she works to regain her financial footing with the help of a $Stand By Me financial coach, Donzella remains active as an advocate for veterans. As an advocate, she dreams of building a homeless shelter for veterans, especially female veterans, and building awareness of issues that many veterans suffer through after returning from the battlefield. She actively gives testimonials; her perfect job would be a veterans advocate.  She states that it may not happen in her life time but the perception of the Guard need to be changed.  Donzella is the Membership chair, Ways and Means Co-Chair, State Conference Coordinator and Former Secretary for the Delaware National Guard Enlisted Association; the Secretary for the Delaware National Guard Retired Association and Service Provider Coordinator for the Veterans Homeless Stand Down event.

Life is finally looking up for Donzella, she is five credits away from obtaining her bachelor’s degree and is determined to work on her master’s degree next!

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Food Bank services credited with improved outlook on life

By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator

It’s hard to imagine that there is anyone more grateful for the services provided by the Food Bank of Delaware than Edward Hawkins.

This Dover resident had undergone some difficult and stressful times before a friend told him about Food Bank programs provided through Calvary Assembly of God, one of our 550 partners engaged in hunger-relief operations.

A Vietnam-era Navy veteran and former maintenance technician, Edward moved from Pennsylvania to Dover in order to be closer to his wife’s sister. He was injured on the job in 2008 and applied for disability benefits. His wife of 23 years became ill and died of cancer last year.

“At that time, I lost weight because I was not eating well. I was positioning myself to die,” said Edward, recounting the combined negative impact of grief and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A friend noticed his situation and suggested he connect with the Food Bank.

“I registered and got a box of food,” he said, and he wrote down what was happening in his life as he started on the road to recovery.

“I filled in the shortfall in my SNAP benefit allotments,” he wrote.

Edward, 58, shared the positive impact of the Food Bank of Delaware’s hunger-relief efforts with legislators in June when the Food Bank lobbied for state support in Delaware’s Legislative Hall.

He clearly loves to cook and eat healthy food and has embraced the Community Supported Agriculture program in which he received a box of farm-fresh produce at the Loockerman Way Farmers’ Market every Wednesday during the growing season. He was one of 149 families participating each week.

“That is a lot of good food they are providing,” he said. “I tell people that’s the reason I’m here, eating things like fresh greens.”

In addition, the fresh produce provides him an opportunity to try new foods and experiment with innovative recipes. He often offers his neighbors a chance to taste what he’s created.

“Healthy food can be so good, and I introduce them to something they’ve never had,” he added, sharing the preparation details of his impromptu entrees.

“I wish more people could be a part of the CSA. I know some people don’t know these programs are available,” he said.

To learn more about the Food Bank of Delaware’s hunger-fighting programs, visit

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Legislative Day in Dover

DSC_0060compressedBy Dan Reyes, Coalition to End Hunger Coordinator

Every year around the start of summer, those wandering the corridors of Legislative Hall are greeted by a veritable sea of tie-dye—it’s hard to miss the Food Bank of Delaware’s Legislative Day. Staff and supporters travel to Dover to educate elected officials about the hunger crisis in our state and what FBD is doing to help, and in turn, the legislature is kind enough to pass a resolution commending our work.

In years past there has been a conspicuous absence at legislative day—those who rely upon the Food Bank of Delaware and its partners for emergency food assistance. Neighbors struggling with poverty and food insecurity are all too often left out of debates and conversations over the policies that directly impact them. The inclusion of this perspective is critical to ensuring that elected officials are working in the best interest of the constituents that they serve.

This year, when given the floor in the State Senate, our President & CEO Patricia Beebe gave only a few brief remarks, before turning the podium over to Edward Hawkins, a Dover Resident and a client of the Food Bank of Delaware. Edward, a Vietnam-era veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was widowed after the passing of his wife last August. The loss of his wife was not only emotionally taxing, but also impacted his financial stability. The SNAP cuts of 2013 proved devastating, as he described to legislators:

“Prior to those cuts my food stores ran out approximately four days before the next month’s allotment. Now it has increased to two weeks. During that period, I got the chance to experience ‘true hunger’, which caused a weight loss of 20 pounds.”

Edward found relief through FBD’s mobile pantry program, where he filled out a “story card” expressing his interest in advocacy efforts. Not long after he began working with me to prepare for Legislative Day, culminating in his eloquent and impactful remarks on June 3rd. After speaking, Edward shared, “That was tough…it’s hard to get up in front of people I don’t know and feel so exposed. I don’t like feeling pitied…but I know this is important. I hope that by doing this, it will make it possible for other people in my situation to do the same.”

For both FBD and Edward, this is only the beginning. We are in the process of developing a “Witnesses to Hunger” program, an expansion of a project of Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities that seeks to engage caregivers of low-income households in participant-led advocacy efforts. Ensuring our clients can advocate for policies that will allow for greater opportunity and self-reliance is just as important to us as providing emergency food assistance.

Peace, Love, End Hunger.


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Share a Second Helping this winter with Delawareans struggling to put meals on the table

Anti-hunger advocates gathered this morning outside the Delaware Department of Labor’s Pencader office to launch Share a Second Helping, a winter-long giving/awareness campaign. The kick-off coincided with a mobile food distribution for individuals utilizing the unemployment office.

In response to a recent $16 million dollar cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Delaware and even deeper cuts to SNAP proposed by members of the United States Congress, the Coalition to End Hunger, Food Bank of Delaware, Delaware Health and Social Services and Delaware 2-1-1 encourage Delawareans to dig a little deeper this winter season to help families struggling to make ends meet.

“A sixteen-million dollar cut to SNAP is a significant cut for already-vulnerable populations, such as our children, seniors, people with disabilities and the working poor, “ said Food Bank of Delaware President and CEO Patricia Beebe. “This cut is more than the entire yearly budget of the food bank. Already-strapped charitable organizations cannot fill the void of Congress’ inability to come up with workable solutions to the problems associated with poverty.”

DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf said the state will work with the community to make up the gap left by the $16 million reduction to SNAP. “We have 156,000 Delawareans who receive SNAP benefits, up dramatically from the 72,000 people we served just five years ago,” she said. “In a country that has so much and so much to be grateful for this holiday season, we cannot sit back as a government or as a society and, in good conscience, allow people to go hungry. Our SNAP program is meant as a safety net, and yet we know of too many families and seniors who have to decide between food or paying for their utilities, medications or paying their mortgage.”

Share a Second Helping takes a three-pronged approach to assisting Delawareans this winter:

  • Gather food and monetary resources to meet the immediate food needs of Delawareans during the winter months
  • Educate at-risk Delawareans on available resources, including the services of Delaware 2-1-1
  • Work with elected officials and stakeholders to implement long-term solutions to meet these nutritional needs through a strong federal safety net

With a campaign goal of 100,000 pounds, the Food Bank of Delaware encourages individuals, businesses, community-based organizations, schools, faith-based organizations and others to host winter-long food drives and fundraisers.

A recent study by the Food Research and Action Council shows that Delaware ranks 12th worst in the nation for food hardship amongst households with children. Witnessing firsthand these increased needs from the community, Delaware 2-1-1 fielded more than 100,000 phone calls from Delawareans in need of human services last year.

“Delaware 2-1-1 understands first-hand the basic needs of our neighbors,” said Delaware 2-1-1 Director Donna Synder White. “Monthly, we receive hundreds of calls from Delawareans and for years, the Food Bank of Delaware, and others partners, have utilized our easy 2-1-1 to connect people to food closest, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, senior centers, after-school and a host of other food programs so that no individual or family in the state goes without a meal to eat.”

Representative Ed Osienski and Senator Bryan Townsend were both on hand for the launch and are committed to advocating in Dover for a hunger-free state.

“If the cuts in unemployment claim extensions, which are being debated now in Washington, take affect then you’ll see a reduction in lines inside the Department of Labor unemployment office move outside to the mobile food distribution lines,” said Osienski. “Who will be providing the additional resources for that shift?”

“We must do more to support the many Delawareans who experience hunger on a daily basis,” send Townsend. “The holidays are a time when people often rally around these efforts, and certainly we should embrace holiday spirit and generosity in November and December. But every day of the year, a Delaware senior or child experiences sharp pangs of hunger. As the U.S. Congress proposes deep cuts to critical anti-hunger programs, we must become all the more vigilant about developing the kind of programs and distribution channels to help end hunger in our state, year-round, top to bottom, from seniors to schoolchildren.”

Central to the campaign’s advocacy component is giving Delawareans utilizing human services a voice in working to bring about systemic change.

“Share a Second Helping is not only about gathering the needed resources to get through the cold winter months, it’s also about coming up with solutions to effectively end hunger and battling negative stereotypes surrounding those in need of emergency food assistance,” said Coalition to End Hunger Chairwoman Julie Miro Wenger. “We are serving hard-working families, adults with disabilities, seniors who have worked their entire lives and children. We all play a role in ensuring that we meet the basic needs of families.”

To learn more about Share a Second Helping, please visit Information about food drives, fundraisers and advocacy can be found there. For individuals in need of emergency food assistance, please contact the Delaware 2-1-1 by simply dialing 2-1-1.



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Partner Spotlight: Calvary Assembly of God

11-27 calvary meal By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator

On a cold, damp and dreary Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, the lobby of Calvary Assembly of God was transformed into a warm and welcoming dining room, complete with twinkling lights and white tablecloths.

Nearly every seat was occupied for the church’s soup kitchen, serving up home-made chicken soup and biscuits to senior citizens.

Margaret Young, th11-27 calvary01e church’s benevolence director, was not surprised by the large turnout on a day on which these seniors also receive supplemental food delivered by the Food Bank of Delaware.

“They come early; some come in as early as 8 for the fellowship. It’s their chance to meet other people,” said Young, adding that 32 volunteers collect and distribute the food “and, of course, a kind word.”

“Volunteer facilitators mingle and talk with people who want a caring conversation,” she said.

The fourth Wednesday of each month, with the exception of December, is designated for senior citizens, and draws just over 100 people on a regular basis.

That’s a number Young expects to grow in the wake of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP11-27 calvary MAIN.

“Since the SNAP cuts, we have seen a significant increase in calls, 42 percent after the first week. People told us they had their benefits reduced, and we are swamped,” Ms. Young said.

More demand for services won’t deter this mission.

“We are focused on serving the community. We are a microcosm of the community, and Pastor (Roland) Coon communicates that from the pulpit,” she said.

This small army of volunteers works year ‘round, and not just during the holiday season.

“Hunger does exist, not just on Thanksgiving or Easter, but on March 2 or whenever.  And everyone can help by just dropping off a few extra cans to a local food pantry. Everyone can help by giving a dollar or a can of food. We all have hungry neighbors in need.”

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Partner Spotlight: Greater Wilmington Adventist Community Services

By Kim Turner, Communications Director

Working in an office setting most days, I don’t always see the direct impact that our organization has on so many in our community. As a provider of services to Delawareans through a network of 477 hunger-relief program partners, Food Bank office workers, like myself, don’t always see the faces that benefit directly from these important services. Two weeks ago I got out of the office and went to visit one of our largest providers of hunger-relief services, Greater Wilmington Adventist Community Services (GWACS).

GWACS distributes every Wednesday out of Ebenezer Baptist Church’s fellowship hall in Wilmington’s Northeast section. A team of dedicated volunteers, led by Richard Geer, provide food and clothing assistance to area residents each week.

Last month alone, the organization provided services to 1,469 individuals. Richard points out that the numbers are increasing, despite reports that our economy is improving. He says that about 50 percent of the households that visit the pantry receive monthly benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and any further decrease in benefits will be detrimental to the families served.

In the first hour of my visit, 75 households had already been served. As I talked with the volunteers, we were greeted with hellos and lots of thank yous as individuals walked along a table of items choosing the foods best suited for their household.
That particular day, visitors chose between a variety of canned goods, cereals, pastas and perishables such as bakery items, breads, fresh produce like tomatoes and apples and even hummus.

Ida Brown, a volunteer since the program’s beginning, happily distributed baked goods to families and also encouraged them to try hummus, “it’s a dip, and it’s good on crackers! You’ll like it.”

Most of the food for the weekly program comes directly from the Food Bank of Delaware. Ida along with Maddie Tyson visit the Food Bank each Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. to pick up the items needed for the Wednesday distribution. The ladies help out every Tuesday and Wednesday and rarely miss a day.

In addition to picking up from the Food Bank, Ida and Maddie along with Joseph Miller, the driver of their 17-foot U-Haul truck, pick up from Little Sisters of the Poor and BJs.

“Wherever there is a pickup we go and get it,” explains Ida. “We pack the U-Haul from top to bottom.”

Their Wednesdays begin at 6:00 a.m. so they can set up both the clothing and food distributions prior to the 9:00 a.m. start time. When I arrived at 8:45 a.m., families were already in line.

“The community would be hurt without these services,” says Ida. “The number has certainly increased in the past month. Each week we see new people.”

She points out some new visitors to me, “I think I have already seen 10 or 12 new people.”

As a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church for 53 years, she has seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood. She explains that need for assistance has only increased during her time with the church.

Many of the individuals visiting the food pantry are seniors. Mary Taylor visits the pantry each week and says she would have a difficult time without GWACS.

“I sometimes cut back on food in order to get medicine,” she explains.

Between the assistance she receives from the food pantry and monthly SNAP benefits, she is thankful, but her budget is tight.
GWACS’ operation would not exist without volunteers.

“We are old and tired, but when we hear from visitors that what we do is a blessing, that makes the day,” says Ida.

Check out some pictures from my visit!

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My Experience with the Mobile Pantry

By Mackenzie Rowe, Communications Intern

I have been an intern at the Food Bank since September. Before my internship began, I never considered how many people in Delaware are affected by hunger and poverty. As a sheltered college student, I spend basically all of my time in Newark surrounded by people just like me. We live in a bubble, with the perfect green and big brick buildings. We have dining halls and student centers conveniently placed around campus for whenever we get hungry. The vast majority of students do not realize how different the environment is just twenty minutes away. Caught up in classes, extracurricular activities and weekend entertainment, students remain on campus. Most out-of-state students never experience the rest of Delaware. For their four years, they remain ignorant to the people that live here permanently.

My favorite part of my internship is that I am no longer a part of this group. I have learned so much about hunger and the other socioeconomic issues that are intertwined. Last Thursday, I spent a few hours in Wilmington seeing the Mobile Pantry in action. We partnered with the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council and volunteers from Capital One. Participants attended a financial education session prior to receiving food from the Mobile Pantry. All households that get assistance from the Mobile Pantry attend an education session. This requirement encourages attendants to make positive changes. The combination of education and food distribution really seems to lift the spirits of those who participate.

This was the first time that I got to do direct service with the Food Bank. It was incredible to see this program in action and to interact with some of the people that the Food Bank helps. Their smiles and kind words helped me to understand why people choose to work for non-profits like the Food Bank of Delaware. Without such dedicated employees, these programs would not be as effective. After seeing how much work every employee here does to ensure that programs like the Mobile Pantry run smoothly, I have a much deeper appreciation and respect for the non-profit sector.

Check out some pictures from the event!

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