Facing Senior Hunger in Maryland: Martha Allen
For many, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. But for others, it can be a reminder of their financial hardships and the difficulties they face in providing for themselves and their families.
Our Pantry on the Go food distribution events bring food into underserved communities year-round, alleviating some of the barriers that food-insecure Marylanders face. But during the winter months, weather can present another challenge to hungry individuals seeking food, especially senior citizens with limited mobility.
Recently, we met 82-year-old Martha Allen, whose resiliency won’t let weather, age, or any other barrier stop her from helping herself and her neighbors.
Positivity Amidst Adversity
Martha Allen, 82, chats to those standing in front and behind her at the New Life Evangelical Baptist Church Food Pantry. A small-statured woman, she cracks jokes to anyone who will listen and brings smiles to many people waiting in line along with her.
Martha is part of a growing senior population in Maryland, one that increasingly relies on the Maryland Food Bank’s safety net. Though in need of food assistance herself, Martha remains optimistic. She strives to help people in any way she can.
“I work at the church, I sing on the choir, I visit the sick, I go to nursing homes every second Saturday of the month and we have service for the patients of the nursing home,” Martha said. “When I visit the sick, I cook or clean … whatever needs to be done.”
Unaware that they were experiencing an early indicator of food insecurity, Martha and her husband worked to stretch whatever food they had available in their cupboards to provide for their family. Many people often stretch their food, but very few look at this as a need for food assistance.
“I have five children, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. In our home, even if we didn’t have nothing but some bread and syrup, we had food to eat. I’d make a pot of soup, cook some beans, and we had hot bread, and we would eat.”
A Life of Self-Sufficiency
Before moving to Baltimore more than 40 years ago, Martha remembers a time when her and her family frequently indulged in bountiful meals.
Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina to two self-sufficient farmers, her family worked together to satisfy their needs, independent from most outside sources of assistance.
“We grew our food,” recounts Martha. “We had gardens. We grew our vegetables and everything. We canned them, we preserved them, and put them in jars so that we had food for the winter.”
She even recalls her family knitting quilts for their beds and raising animals to harvest for the holidays.
Unlike the fast-paced, commercial society that so many of us live in and rely on to satisfy daily needs, the world Martha and her family lived in was different. They didn’t visit the grocery store often, nor did they shop for sheets and blankets. There was no need. Most things she needed to live a happy, healthy life was available to her in her own back yard.
“We farmed until my husband and I got married and then we moved to Baltimore,” Martha said.
Like many places in today’s Maryland, Martha experienced limited job opportunities while living in Raleigh.
“Jobs in North Carolina wasn’t plentiful. So, we moved here to get jobs and we’ve been here ever since.”
In 1983, Martha retired from working altogether. She’d already been struggling financially since the move, but things got even more difficult after the passing of her husband.
A Boost of Aid
“Since my husband passed away – he passed away four years ago – and I only get social security, I come over here and get food,” Martha said.
As the sole provider for herself and many others in her family, visiting the food pantry has enabled her to ensure her loved ones are fed.
“I have food to last me all month long. We make do with what we have, but coming here helps … a lot.”