Nicole is a paraeducator in Vermont. Her wage doesn’t cover living costs and she frequently has to make impossible decisions when it comes to affording groceries, health care, and housing. Thankfully, she’s able to access nourishing food through programs and services you help support.

Nicole describes herself as someone who rolls with the punches and hopes for the best. Her three children are grown and out of her home, she’s recently divorced, and she just got a free treadmill. “I’m going through crazy amounts of stress right now,” she says, “I used to work out…and I knew that that’s what I needed to get myself mentally back to where I need to be.”

Nicole works with intensive needs students, teaching skills like cooking and going to the post office. “We definitely have a lot of students that don’t have sufficient enough food,” she says. Nicole can recognize food insecurity in her students because she experiences it herself.

“I’ve been at my job for 18 years, and I’m just barely making $18,” shares Nicole. “I’m kind of like too poor to buy food, but too rich to get food stamps.”

Nicole explains that as a paraprofessional she makes an hourly wage and doesn’t get paid time off for school vacations, summer break, or snow days. Her inconsistent income makes it challenging to apply for assistance, and she is constantly doing mental gymnastics to pay bills—and is often forced to make tradeoffs when buying food.

“I would love to buy a thing of apples so I can have a fresh apple in my oatmeal, but in my brain it’s like, Well yeah, but you need to pay your mortgage and you need to pay your electric bill…I’m just barely making it with everything. But I mean who isn’t, nowadays?”

To help make ends meet and stay nourished, Nicole visits free, fresh food events Vermont Foodbank hosts in her area, as well as her local food shelf. It’s your support that makes food distributions possible, keeps food shelves well-stocked, and ensures food is accessible to neighbors who need it—in every county in Vermont.

“I just went this past Monday, and I have an overabundance of potatoes and carrots. Which I love!” says Nicole. “Last time I got grapefruit. I got some apples. I have so many eggs, which is wonderful since they’re so expensive…[it] has been definitely a huge, huge, huge help. I mean huge.”

She believes that hunger persists in Vermont because it’s an invisible issue. “It’s not something you see every single day. You don’t, ever…I think that’s where we get stuck…I think we’ve gotten lost in the shuffle.”

Nicole says she wants people to know how hard it is to feel hungry. She wants to buy groceries without calculating whether she can also afford toilet paper, or a trip to the dentist. She dreams of being able to fill her house with food for her kids when they come home to visit, and host holiday meals.

“I always wanted like, ‘Come to my house for Thanksgiving,’ you know. I want the pies. I want the feast. I want the counter to be full with food. And I want everybody to be like laying around with their pants unbuttoned, belching, you know, watching football. I want to be able to do that and not have to worry about whether my electricity is going to be shut off or not. Or whether I’m gonna have enough money to be able to get gas for my car and food for the rest of the month.”

It takes all of us—the Foodbank, state and federal government, and community members like you—supporting one another, to make sure everyone in Vermont has nourishing food this holiday season and every day of the year.

Nicole plans to walk in silence on her new treadmill in the mornings, using the quiet time to say her prayers and get mentally organized. She’s hard-boiling the eggs she brought home to add to her salads. And she’s proud of her kids and all they’ve accomplished. “My heart is happy,” she says. “And that’s all that matters.”

* Photo substituted to protect privacy. To help advocate for state and federal policies that ensure we can all access the food we need, sign-up for advocacy alerts here.