Lilly, the two-year-old pixie in pink, looks around the room, caught somewhere between sleep and mischief. She wiggles on the lap of her grandmother, Lynda, who chuckles and tries to tame the child’s unruly tufts of blonde hair.
Lynda looks for a book to amuse Lilly while they wait in line at Helping Hands Outreach Center in Owensville, Mo., a food pantry and partner agency of the St. Louis Area Foodbank. Within 25 minutes, Lynda will hoist Lilly and several armloads of groceries into her truck. The groceries won’t be enough to feed them for a month, but it will be enough to help them get by.
Lynda, 62, comes to the pantry once a month to get meat, canned vegetables, toilet paper and pasta. She relies on the food to supplement what she can afford to buy at the store.
Back at her home in Rosebud, a tiny town in Gasconade County, Lynda is the consummate grandma. She gets her 10-year-old granddaughter Julie off the bus every afternoon and entertains Lilly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
She’s the epitome of strength, smiling and laughing despite the struggles she faces.
Lynda grew up in rural Barnhart, Mo. She was working in the office at a mobile home transporting company in Fenton, when she fell in love with a truck driver named Leon. They married in 1971.
Lynda and Leon moved to Rosebud in 1973 and had two sons, Daniel and Brian. The family lived happily there until December 13, 1991 when Lynda and Leon were injured in terrible head-on collision.
Lynda, who was driving, suffered the most severe injuries. Her jaw was broken in four places and her back and both her feet were broken.
Because her injuries prevented her from working, Lynda and Leon decided to move closer to some of her family in Western Missouri. They bought a farm in Polo, Mo., in 1994 and started their own mobile home transporting company.
Then in 2007, their son Brian was diagnosed with a brain tumor. At the same time, Leon began suffering from an undiagnosed blood disease.
Lynda and Leon moved back to their home in Rosebud where they were able to celebrate several happy milestones, including the birth of Daniel’s daughter, Julie, and Brian’s marriage to his wife, Heather.
Brian and Heather’s daughter Lilly was born just two and a half months before Brian passed away on May 1, 2009.
Earlier this year on June 3, 2011, Lynda lost Leon to his disease. “We almost made it 40 years,” she says with pride.
Now, as she copes with the loss of her son and her husband, Lynda faces financial crisis. She sold farm equipment to pay for the funeral, and is slowly paying for his hospital and doctor bills.
She receives widow’s benefits, but since they were self-employed, they didn’t pay much in.
“Thankfully my house is paid for,” Lynda said. “When we sold the farm we took the money and paid the house out, that way he (Leon) knew there wouldn’t be that to have to worry about. But that doesn’t cover the taxes and insurances and eating.”
Lynda stretches her dollars to get by, and only takes what she needs from the food pantry. She receives some food stamps, and uses those to supplement the food she receives at the pantry. When her granddaughters are with her, she feeds them as well – and she doesn’t believe in junk food.
“I only make $825 a month and that’s what I have to live on. I use everything I can to cook,” she says. “Without the food pantry, it would be real, real tight. I do need it.”
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at The St. Louis Area Foodbank.