Financial stability can change in an instant — something Carrie Hook knows all too well. After her husband suffered a job-related injury, putting him out of work, the couple quickly felt the pressures of piling bills and zero income. Before they knew it, they were struggling to afford basic essentials, like food.
A friend suggested she reach out to Together – a nonprofit organization based in Omaha, Nebraska that aims to prevent and end hunger through its food pantry and home delivery program. Clients, like Carrie, are able to choose meats, fruits, vegetables and shelf-stable foods to meet their needs.
“It’s a comforting feeling,” Carrie said, “knowing that we were going to have food on the table and we could come back to the pantry as needed.”
To help expand the nonprofit’s reach, Together received a $355,000 UnitedHealthcare grant to purchase a walk-in freezer and additional food to help stock their pantry.
The freezer makes it possible for the organization to accept and store more frozen food for those who visit the pantry. Prior to receiving the donation, Together relied on smaller freezers, which limited the amount of food they were able to keep on hand.
“We are now able to have plenty of protein to give to families on a regular basis,” said Stephanie Strode, pantry manager at Together. “We are not worrying about what's going to be wasted. If a family's going to be served, we are able to store it in here and serve people every day.”
The grant has also helped Together meet the increased need due to the pandemic. In 2018, the food insecurity rate in Nebraska was 12.3%. The pandemic created additional challenges, with food insecurity rates projected to reach 18.5% in parts of the state.
“When the pandemic hit, we saw a community that was in need,” Stephanie said. “They didn't know what they were going to do for food. We were here to help and we’re thankful for that.”
Carrie knows firsthand how that kind of help can make a huge impact. She has an enormous amount of gratitude for Together – from the staff to the volunteers, she said everyone has played a part in helping her turn her life around.
"When I first started coming here, COVID-19 wasn't a factor, but now it is and there's so much more need out there," Carrie said. "This could happen to anybody at any time so I encourage people to come here if they need it."
Carrie and her husband are now back on their feet — and she’s giving back to the place that gave her so much, as a Together employee.
“Today, I get to help people like me that are in need,” she said. “I get to walk into work and help people all day. It's an amazing feeling."
To locate a food pantry near you, visit FeedingAmerica.org.