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In Arizona, some military families are struggling to afford food

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Posted at 4:29 AM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 14:09:11-04

MESA, AZ — Sara Starks is a loving mother in Mesa taking care of six kids while her husband, Ben, a sergeant in the Army National Guard is deployed in Iraq.

“Because we have a large family and most of our marriage we’ve been on one income, we’ve been very careful with our budget knowing what's coming in and what's coming out, but unexpected things come up,” Starks said. "I think we pay more in food than we do on our mortgage, which is a big deal.”

Starks says she and her husband are both pursuing higher education, in hopes of better supporting their family. In the meantime, they rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to help buy groceries. And they aren’t alone.

A 2020 survey by Blue Star Families found 14% of enlisted active duty respondents reported being food insecure.

“The military lifestyle is currently structured in such a way that for some families it will inevitably lead to financial stress,” said CEO of Blue Star Families Kathy Roth-Douquet. She along with other military advocates spoke at a roundtable discussion about hunger in the military before the House Rules Committee in May.

Margy Bons, the founder of the Military Assistance Mission (MAM), says military families experiencing food insecurity is nothing new.

“It’s been concerning. I’ve been doing this for 14 years and I’m never surprised by the request for need because I’ve seen it so much,” Bons said.

Her organization helps hundreds of Arizona families every year, like the Starks, pay their bills or other expenses. And while members of the military played a critical role at food banks during the height of the pandemic, she says she has seen some of those same men and women stand in line at food banks themselves.

“I’ve actually recommended Saint Mary’s Food Bank and a couple of other food banks because we can only give so much and there’s an ongoing need,” Bons said. “Organizations need to be there for them and our public needs to remember they aren't living high and mighty in a palace, they are working for us and they are working poor.”

Through MAM, Starks says she recently received backpacks, school supplies, and a gift card for groceries as her kids head back to school. She says the organization also helped pay fees so her son could be in his school’s marching band.

"They helped pay for $500 towards his fees which was huge for us," she said.

She says the support she has received from the community has kept her family going.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised on how people have been reaching out to us and I’ve been grateful for that," she said.