Tackling Food Insecurity: A Mission that Hits Home

Published: November 12, 2021

Tackling Food Insecurity: A Mission that Hits Home

Meet Kelley. She’s an Air Force spouse, mom of two, and just joined the Blue Star Families team as the Food Insecurity DEPLOY Fellow, thanks to the support of Amazon. With 13 years of service in the military, Kelley has seen the struggles military families face when it comes to isolation. Finding yourself in a new community every two to three years, away from family and friends, and without a trusted network of support, can feel overwhelming and lonely. It’s a problem that’s so prevalent that, according to the 2019 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, over one-third of active-duty family respondents reported having no one to ask for a favor. 

Feeling like you don’t have a single friend in your corner can feel crushing, especially when your spouse, and lifeline, leaves for a deployment or training assignment. That feeling of isolation can feel even worse when you don’t see yourself represented in your peers or the social groups around you. As a bi-racial person and member of the Cherokee Nation, Kelley found herself in that same boat. “Being a biracial person has its own unique challenges,” Kelley explained. “Biracial people have the experience of not feeling like they fit in anywhere, which I can attest to personally. I didn’t grow up near the Cherokee Nation, so I feel estranged from that part of myself. That feeling also rings true in military life for me. I have met very few other American Indian people. I have met other biracial families, but none that are American Indian and white. That can feel pretty isolating and is hard to deal with.”

With “belonging” so strongly associated with mental health, this lack of connection creates a major challenge for military families. And when there’s stress on a service member’s family, it jeopardizes their readiness and the military as a whole. The fact is, we all hit points in our lives when we could use someone to lean on. For Kelley, that moment came early on in her husband’s military career, after the birth of their first child. Kelley had left her own promising career when they moved to their first duty station. Finding a new position in a new town with limited childcare options proved to be very difficult, leaving Kelley out of work. Her husband was still newly enlisted, and with a baby at home, their finances became tight.

“We had cut our income drastically to join the military,” Kelley shared. “We drove an old car, lived on base so my husband could ride his bike to work, had no cable, and never ate out. When I had difficulty breastfeeding my daughter, we knew we had to rely on formula. We decided to get on the WIC [Women, Infants, and Children] supplemental nutrition plan to help us because formula is so expensive. I remember feeling stressed toward the end of each month, worried that the formula wouldn’t last until our vouchers were renewed. I remember feeling embarrassed checking out at the Commissary, dealing with vouchers, and dividing up the food on the belt. I remember thinking, ‘should it be this hard? Are we doing something wrong? Did we make a huge mistake?’ Our careers eventually progressed, and our financial burdens eased over time, but 13 years later, we vividly remember this experience.” 

Kelley’s experience, sadly, isn’t unique. In response to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 14% of enlisted active-duty families report facing food insecurity. That number jumps to 20% when you look specifically at enlisted families whose spouses are not employed but report the need/want to work. Military families already contend with stress and anxiety because of job demands and deployments. They shouldn’t also be worried about putting food on their table. In Kelley’s case, they managed with WIC as they found their footing financially. Still many military families either don’t qualify because of outdated policies, don’t know the resources available to them, or are too scared to ask for help. 

The latter two situations become compounded when you remember the isolation military families face. Especially when you don’t see yourself represented among the support organizations that stand ready to serve. It’s really hard to get connected to organizations or resources when you don’t see anyone who looks like you,” Kelley said. “Representation tells people, ‘You belong here too. This is for you too.’ An organization can have great intentions but miss the mark by not taking representation into account.” 

As Kelley became more comfortable in the military community, built her career along with her husband, and moved into a more secure place financially, her experiences drove her passion for helping military families. She knew she wanted to help families on their journeys, and to help  ensure that families can find resources, build connections, and know they have a friend to turn to. As the Food Insecurity DEPLOY Fellow, a position made possible by Amazon, Kelley will be able to turn that passion into meaningful action. “DEPLOY Fellows is a Blue Star Program within our Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative (REI) designed to diversify and expand the pipeline of leaders in the military community,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO and Founder of Blue Star Families. “The effort will embed and train individuals from historically underrepresented populations into Blue Star Families’ organization as paid staff in national and Chapter roles. Through our training, we’ll seed a new generation of leaders throughout the veteran and military family support space.” 

“In my role, I will shed light on the struggles that so many military families facing food insecurity live through,” Kelley said.  “I am committed to helping find solutions that will eliminate that burden, whether that be from organizations or political action. I believe that no military family should struggle to put food on the table. No military family should have to worry that they won’t have enough to feed their kids. Being hungry can affect everything – it makes it more difficult to learn, more difficult to focus on doing a job, and more difficult to thrive.  Families who commit to serving this country deserve to be empowered, and I aim to do just that.”  

You, too, can join Kelley in advocating for military families. There’s no better time than today to show your support. Please act now by visiting www.bluestarfam.org. Our country’s heroes and their families need you