Single mother trapped in poverty, striving for a better life for her children

Sue Guinn Legg • Nov 2, 2019 at 9:00 PM

Among the hundreds of families and seniors registered for help with food for the holidays from the Johnson City Press Christmas Box is a single mother of three, trapped in poverty and striving to provide a better life for her children.

A victim of long-term child abuse, Marie — not her real name — suffers from disabling post traumatic stress disorder and major depression.

With an income of just over $1,000 a month in Social Security Disability and Assistance to Families with Dependent Children, she provides a three-bedroom apartment in a Section 8 complex notorious for its roach infestation.

“They’re everywhere. They get in the refrigerator. They’re crawling on us when we sleep. They’re even in the grass outside. I’m trying to get us out of there but basically I spend all my time going around killing bugs.”

Try as she might, Marie said, with lights, water, phone and internet service needed for the children’s school work and a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotment that leaves their household of four without groceries for half of every month, there is little to nothing left to set aside for the rent and utility deposits she needs for a better home elsewhere.

“If you manage to get to the end of the month with anything at all, you’re excited,” she said.

And then there is Christmas.

Marie’s kids need clothes and shoes. She’d like to get a small bike, Avenger and Spider-man toys for her youngest and gift cards that would allow her to take her older ones to pick out a few things they like.

“That’s what I like to do but I haven’t been able to,” she said, looking down at her hands and the prospect of very meager Christmas, especially for her middle- and high school-aged children who are too old for gifts from the Salvation Army Angel Tree.

Then, looking up, Marie said, “that food will help us,” and noted the Christmas Box — a large box packed with all the makings of a holiday dinner, a good supply of extra canned and dry goods, a ham and fresh potatoes and onions on the side — comes near the end of the month when most food stamp dependent families are struggling for groceries.

With that, Marie said, she will be able to spend the money that would otherwise go for food to get them through the end of the month on small gifts for her children, a few toys, a couple of gift cards and socks and underwear for them all. “I like for them to wake up with something under the tree, even if it’s small,” she said.

For both the Christmas Box and the Angel Tree, she said, “I appreciate anything they do because, if not for them, a lot of people wouldn’t have anything and a lot of kids wouldn’t have any gifts or anything to eat,” at Christmas.

Donations to the Christmas Box are tax deductible, and can be made online at jcpchristmasbox.com or by mail to P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN, 37605. Because the Johnson City Press covers all administrative costs for the project, 100 percent of all donations are used to buy food.

A $35 donation to the Christmas Box will provide a large food box with all the makings of a Christmas dinner, a ham, 10 pounds of potatoes, 3 pounds of onions and more than 40 canned and packaged food items for a family of three or more people, or a $35 Food City gift certificate for a senior living alone or small household of one or two people.

More information about the Christmas Box can be found at the website or at the Johnson City Press Christmas Box page on Facebook, or may be obtained by contacting Senior Reporter Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com or 423-722-0538.

The Christmas Box food distribution is conducted in partnership with Johnson City Salvation Army Angel Tree shopping adoption program for children in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties, which is set to kick off on Nov. 15. For more information about the Angel Tree, call the Salvation Army at 423-926-2101.