Airis Messick and her husband were saving for a house when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
By the end of March 2020, both lost their jobs connected to the oil industry. The Anchorage couple qualified for unemployment benefits, but not food assistance. To help feed her family, Messick visited food pantries for the first time in her life.
“We’re these people who make too much to get help, but don’t make enough to survive,” she says. “We go to the food pantry to make ends meet.”
This fall Messick started a new job with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, but her employment hasn’t solved their financial challenges.
Her husband is unable to look for a job because someone needs to stay home with their 9-year-old son who has autism and is attending school online. Her husband also transports their son to therapies that he used to receive in school.
“We’re using more gas. There are more people at home, so we have more expenses and more food being consumed,” Messick says.
She would like to buy healthy foods for her growing child, but finds that snacks and processed foods are cheaper. She’s grateful for what she can find at local food pantries.
To make sure there’s enough food for her son, Airis occasionally chooses to eat only one meal per day. The last time she made that choice is when her family lived in Florida and lost power for two weeks after Hurricane Irma.
“Outside of a natural disaster or a pandemic, we’ve never had trouble providing food for our family,” she says.
The Messicks live in a two-bedroom apartment. Their landlord allowed them to postpone payment for a few months, but recently increased monthly rent. Messick says her life before the pandemic wasn’t perfect, but she and her husband were able to pay their bills and set aside money for future dreams.
This year, the family won’t be able to afford anything special for Thanksgiving dinner. Messick has already crunched the numbers.
“I know I can’t afford Thanksgiving,” she says. “We’ll be one hundred percent reliant on the food bank.”