'My Family Needs These Meals': How One Northeast Kingdom Family Is Making It Through

May 5, 2020

Marijah Monfette is a clerk for the local post office in Troy, Vermont and her husband is a carpenter. They’re both working during the shutdown, and their older son Chase, 13, takes care of his younger brother, Jaxton, 6, while both stay home to do online school. In the second of a two-part story, Erica Heilman talks with the family about meals they’ve been receiving from the school, which in a way, means talking about money and fear and uncertainty and even love.

Here’s Marijah:

Marijah: “My husband and I talked ... It was just too obvious right away that, that pride of getting by on your own needed to be put aside. I could sign up for my school, who was not putting it in terms of need. Like, 'You could have this even if you didn’t need it.' That they would just come and provide these meals for your kids. And I knew right away, that we do need that. That’s what we needed for sure during this.”   

Me: “Have you found that food has gotten more expensive?” 

Marijah: “I have. I am a coupons-galore [person]. I find the thrill in savings. Anywhere that can get us the best for our buck. And lately, grocery shopping and trying to stretch, I am amazed. I mean, the egg prices, that alone was shocking. And how do I change what I can make at home or how I can stretch things when I haven’t had to look at eggs as an item that were on the higher end of the groceries that I’m buying.”  

Me: “What’s the jump in price on eggs?” 

Marijah: “Oh boy. So before this, I was getting a dozen eggs at Price Chopper for $1.89. Now those same eggs are up over $3. It’s unbelievable.

“Week one, you’re immediately worried about certain aspects. How are we gonna afford having the kids eating every single meal here and boredom-snacking or comfort-snacking through this? And then week two, you realize, now it’s time for me to go into the grocery store, where who knows? I could possibly either get this or pass it to someone else unknowingly.

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“Week three you start seeing the bills that you haven’t paid. And that concern and realization that you’ve got to start planning for when those bills are due.

“School? I have sat with my son through classes and sat as he did his homework and thought, how much pressure do I put on him for this? He has his day blocked out, and then notes stuck in that he needs to go outside with his brother for 30 minutes a day. He needs to remember to check that his brother has changed his clothes, or that he hasn’t had four breakfasts and no lunch, but the things are a routine for him as well. And I know that that’s an immense amount of pressure to put on him.”  

Marijah stepped away so I could talk with her son Chase for a few minutes. I asked him how he felt about getting the school meals every day delivered by the school bus.  

Chase: “So both my parents still have to go to work during this time, when other kids have both their parents there to help them manage their times. So the bus and having this lunch is a lot more helpful for me. Now that I don’t have to stop and make my little brother some lunch. So having the bus that I can go out and get the lunch is very helpful.”  

Me: “What are you scared of right now?” 

Chase: “What I’m scared of is having the people who don’t stay at home and take non-seriously, is having them ruin the opportunity I have for next year in school.”  

Me: “What’s your awareness of your parents’ financial life? How involved are you in that?”  

Chase: “Well they keep me out of it, most part. But obviously I know they’re part of that waiting till the next paycheck. I guess in a way I’m kinda blessed that they’re both still working, because even if it does mean I have to stay with my brother all the time, we get to live a better life than some people who are just sitting at home and have parents that are there, because they can’t go to work and get money.

“My awareness of money is the fact that it’s low for everybody except for who have it all. So the people that have it all are the 1% that have all the money. And the rest of the people are the ones that are low on it and are waiting for the next paycheck to come in so that they can help their kids grow up and maybe even become one of the 1%. That’s the goal of everyone who wants the money. 

“Everybody knows that around here, nobody’s really part of that 1%, right? So we’re all in a common ground. So no matter how much people can feel separated from each other, there’s always one thing we can be together on.” 

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Me: “And what’s that?” 

Chase: “That feeling of waiting for the next paycheck.” 

Marijah: “My family needs these meals. I just feel so humbled knowing that every day that I leave, my kids aren’t worried, because these are familiar faces that are coming by and caring about them, just like they did at school. And open the notes that come in the lunch bag that say, ‘We love you. We can’t wait to see you tomorrow.’ 

“I called the other day to ask for some piece of information that I’d left at home, and my son said, ‘Mom! We got strawberries today! They were so big. There were so many strawberries!’ And then I look at the picture and there are three strawberries. But that was so many.”