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Ashley Brager

"I hate listening to my kid cry, 'I'm hungry'"

Ashley Brager

Ashley Brager does everything she can to help her 5-year-old son with autism not cry out over hunger. There is no worse sound in the world as far as Ashley is concerned. While struggling with mental health issues herself, when times are difficult she finds needed resources within a pair of Great Plains Food Bank partner food pantries to help the young family get by.

The day they came to the Emergency Food Pantry for groceries, Ashley Brager and her 5-year-old son ate Cool Ranch Doritos for breakfast and lunch.

The bag of chips was the only food they had left in their Casselton, North Dakota, apartment.

Ashley and her son both receive disability payments – she struggles with mental health issues and her son is on the autism spectrum. The small family doesn’t qualify for federal food assistance, so the single mom delivers newspapers every morning for extra cash.

After paying rent and other expenses, there’s often little money left for food and personal hygiene supplies like shampoo.

“It’s not easy,” Ashley says. “I hate listening to my kid cry, ‘I’m hungry.’”

To stretch their budget, the single mother visits the food pantry in Casselton three times a year. She also drives to the Emergency Food Pantry in Fargo three or four times a year. Both food pantries are partner agencies of the Great Plains Food Bank.

In August, Ashley wasn’t sure she’d be able to make the trip to Fargo. Her vehicle’s gas tank was on empty; she didn’t have cash to fill it.

Instead, an ex-girlfriend offered to put $10 of gas into Ashley’s car if she would drive the two families to Fargo for food.

“That’s how we make it work,” Ashley says. “I get as much help as I can from friends and family.”

Over time, Ashley has seen requirements for federal food assistance change. When her son was a toddler, the family qualified for SNAP benefits. They no longer do.

“Those changes make places (like the Emergency Food Pantry) more valuable,” she says. “This is what I need to keep us alive.”

Ashley left the Emergency Food Pantry supplied with milk, hamburger, pasta and canned goods. She was relieved to unpack the groceries into her vehicle, but she also knew that they wouldn’t last long with a growing boy in the house.

“What I got today will last me about a week,” she says. But at least for a few nights, they’ll have a decent meal to eat.

“If we didn’t get groceries today, we’d eat chips again,” she says.

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