Dinner for a Sous Chef

Dee and JohnThe start of school can be hard for kids and parents alike. It’s harder if they’re worried about getting enough to eat.

On a Friday afternoon two weeks before the first day of school, Dee Tyler and her son John stood in line for the Mobile Food Pantry at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids. Local churches had been sponsoring Mobile Pantries at the school for years, but this was their first.

A graduate of Grand Rapids Community College’s hospitality management program, Dee had been working as a cook at a local child development center.

“Cooking is pretty much what I love to do,” she explained.

Despite having two incomes in her household of five, times were tough, Dee said. Her mother-in-law, who lives with the family, was now in remission after a bout with cancer, but the medical bills were still hanging over their heads. With John out of school and therefore out of the school’s meal program, it was hard to afford all the food they needed, especially fruits and vegetables.

Congress Elementary started a community garden where neighbors and students can learn to grow their own food.
Congress Elementary maintains a community garden where neighbors and students can learn to grow their own food.

It’s a cruel irony that a woman whose career is devoted to feeding people should struggle to provide for her own family. But Dee is hardly alone.

On average, workers in the accommodation and food service industry earn $12.51 per hour and work just over 26 hours per week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That works out to a little more than $17,000 a year, not much when you’re trying to support a family.

Dee is meeting her family’s challenges head-on. She’s now two weeks into her a job as the sous chef at local nursing home. She’s also clearly proud of her son, a budding athlete whom Principal Bridget Cheney describes as an exuberant boy with academic talent.

With the food she received at the Mobile Pantry, Dee was able to fry up a dish of peppers, onions and potatoes, she made a bread pudding, and she fixed up the fruit for dessert.

As her family gets back on their feet, she may visit the Mobile Pantry again, Dee said, but she looks forward to a time when she won’t have to.

“We are definitely grateful it was there because that was definitely a moment when we needed it,” she said.

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