Hunger whispers to Mary — Lovell woman to be voice for seniors, food insecurity

MARY CELESTE PHILLIPS, 70, of Lovell, will speak on the challenges of eating on a limited food budget at the Empty Bowl Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser, which will be held at the Lake Region Vocational Technology School in September. (Photo courtesy of Mary Phillips)

MARY CELESTE PHILLIPS, 70, of Lovell, will speak on the challenges of eating on a limited food budget at the Empty Bowl Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser, which will be held at the Lake Region Vocational Technology School on Sept. 17.. (Photo courtesy of Mary Phillips)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

LOVELL — Mary Phillips and her husband cannot afford to eat meat very often. That source of protein is not always included in the budget.

“We get meat every two weeks. This month, I bought a big package of ground beef and one slab of fish. I made as many hamburger patties as I could, and I froze them. I cut the fish into serving sizes,” she said.

“Every night, it is hamburger and something else, hamburger and, hamburger and,” she said.

The couple cannot afford to eat pork chops one night and chicken breast on another evening like they did when they were employed and bringing home a paycheck.

In fact, it is difficult to afford to regularly restock baking necessities like eggs, oil, flour, sugar, baking soda or baking powder.

Mary and her husband Tom were both born in 1945 and turned 70 years old this year. Their combined sources of gross income prohibit them from receiving any assistance from the state — not food stamps, not heating assistance. Yet, their income is not sufficient to cover the monthly expenses of rent, heat, utilities, and keeping their vehicle legal as well as groceries.

Phillips has been turned down by state social services so many times, she has quit asking. She has quit filling out applications that get denied.

“We are just over the line. Everyone knows that the worst place to be is where you are just over the line,” Phillips said.

So many Americans, particularly senior citizens, are beyond that income threshhold that lacks all common sense, she said.

“The food banks are critical for people like us,” the Lovell resident said.

The food bank provides a variety of canned and packaged food items plus bread and produce and sometimes frozen meat. Plus, food bank volunteers extend compassion to all the people who walk through the door. She wishes that the general population had that same compassion.

“People think that people who use the food banks are needy and taking. That is not correct. We want dignity. We want to be treated with respect,” Phillips said.

“The people considered the takers are the givers as well. We wouldn’t even ask for help if we didn’t have to. It takes a lot of humility to ask for help,” she said.

“It is not a ‘me, me, me’ world. Human beings are interdependent. We are not just receivers. We have something to give,” she said.

Recently, Phillips volunteered to help out with this year’s Hunger Action Month, a series of events, food drives and fundraisers slated for the month of September.

The theme of the 2015 Hunger Action Month is Seniors Matter, according to Joanna Moore, the director of CrossWalk Community Outreach.

Moore said Phillips is the perfect spokesperson for this age group.

She is articulate, educated, and willing to share her experiences and her viewpoints with the public.

Phillips said that people from her generation are hard workers who want to feel like they contribute.

She walks the talk.

After visiting a food pantry, “late into the evening, I work my butt off to save all the food we received because it is compromised, ready to expire. I make loaves of bread into bread pudding, cubes for stuffing or the base for a casserole. If I get tomatoes, I make salsa and put it in sterilized jars.”

She has learned to use mashed avocadoes as a substitute for butter in recipes, and other handy ways to utilize the donated food.

She has been compiling a cookbook on her computer that could help other people make the most of the items most frequently available at food banks.

She said she has earned her PhD at the school of hard knocks. Actually, she attended college after working for five years as a nanny — for a family with now grown children who still send greeting cards “to the woman who was like a second mother” to them.

Phillips raised four children, all of whom have gone onto college and careers. The youngest daughter is currently a stay-at-home mom. That is something that Phillips chose to do when her children where young.

Later in life in the late 1980s, a damaged sciatic nerve caused such intense pain she was forced to retire early. The sciatic nerve pain caused her to quit driving, a freedom that was difficult to give up.

Now-a-days, Phillips said a positive mindset goes a long way when dealing with setbacks and obstacles. She focuses on maintaining that positive attitude.

She delves into artistic endeavors such as designing fairy houses when she is struck by the creative muse, and when time permits.

“I do run around 90 percent of the time in life using alternative thinking, being grateful for what I have received. And I want to extend that concept from just physical food, but to the other needs of people,” she said.

“People need meaning and purpose in life as much as good food,” she said.

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