A Recipe for Overcoming Adversity: Meet Lateesha C.
“What brought me to FoodWorks was that I was looking for a career. I wasn’t working and wasn’t comfortable just living on Disability. I always liked to cook, and one night, as I was looking online for a baking course or program, I found that FoodWorks was right here in Halethorpe where I live, so I enrolled.”
Like so many Marylanders, Lateesha Carson continues to deal with adversity, feeling the ripple effects from a medical issue that happened years ago, both in her body and her budget.
Following the birth of her first child at age 29, bacteria migrated from her digestive system to her bloodstream. Going undetected for nearly a year, the infection damaged the blood vessels in her brain and heart, ultimately leading to a stroke.
“They told me 92% of my body was inflamed with deadly bacteria, and it kind of put me down. I was in the hospital for over a month and was on IV medication for a year after that,” Lateesha shared.
Getting Resourceful for Her Family
Lateesha had worked for years in the medical field, performing nursing assistant work, but the damage caused by the infection make it impossible for her to return to the field she loved.
Thankfully, Lateesha found the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP) to be a literal lifesaver for herself and her three daughters, helping her manage some of the adversity. It helped the Carson family bridge the gap between rent, utilities, medical bills, and food. Prior to COVID, her four-person household was receiving $739 each month. But with the average cost of a meal in Maryland at nearly $4, those benefits can run out quickly.
During COVID, she received additional support in the form of P-EBT (Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer) giving her nearly $1,000 to spend on nutritious foods for her family. But in February 2023, Lateesha, alongside hundreds of thousands of other food-insecure Marylanders on SNAP, saw the P-EBT boost end, and discovered that her new monthly household amount would be reduced to $227 – significantly less than what her family previously accessed.
But Lateesha was not letting this latest barrier stand in the way of her success.
Finding a Culinary Career Path
Lateesha had always enjoyed cooking and was still able to do so for her family, even after her medical issue. So one day, it occurred to her that cooking might not just be a passion; it could be a career.
“I am so thankful that I enrolled in FoodWorks, because I simply don’t have the income to afford rent, utilities, and still eat. We get regular boxes of food, which I can supplement by going to a church around the corner from my home (MFB Network Partner Fishes & Loaves) if I need to. I think without FoodWorks, it’d be almost impossible to feed my kids,” she added.
To help eliminate some of the adversity, the barriers to success that many students face, that Lateesha, and other FoodWorks students meet with members of MFB’s Community Impact Team to discuss their current situation and determine which social services (such as SNAP) would have the greatest impact on their lives.
“FoodWorks students tend to experience the same challenges as other food-insecure Marylanders, so we’re trying to reduce or eliminate some of the hardships that might be preventing them from finding stability by helping them enroll in SNAP, connecting them with utility assistance, or providing transportation vouchers,” said Chris Speedie, MFB’s Community Impact Director.
One of the life lessons Lateesha has learned in FoodWorks is to stand up for herself, both to earn respect professionally in the kitchen, but also to be able to accomplish personal goals. Suspecting the $500/month drop in SNAP benefits might be in error, she advocated for her family and filed a successful claim with the State of Maryland’s Department of Human Services. Her benefits have since been restored to the correct pre-pandemic level.
A Hopeful Eye on the Future
“It’s been great learning so many different things, right down to learning how to use cauliflower as a substitute in some foods,” Lateesha said. “FoodWorks has been a great outlet for me, even outside of the cooking lessons. I have made friends and formed relationships that I know will continue on, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Lateesha is scheduled to graduate from FoodWorks on April 28, 2023, and is excited to see what she can do for her family with her newly acquired culinary training.
“I will graduate with my head held high, knowing I have done something special. I took charge of my situation, and now have the skills and ability to do more for myself and my family,” she said.
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