For a period of time as a mom, Joyce Santiago only had two chairs at her kitchen table, enough only for her children. There was no seat for her. It was her way of making sure her kids were fed, but not bring attention that there was not enough food for herself.
On most occasions, her children had no idea that she wasn’t eating.
Hunger wasn’t new to Joyce – she had long stretches of her childhood that she struggled to find food, sometimes only scraping enough change together – 50 cents – to buy a pack of cookies which would last, if she was careful, most of the day.
“Hunger is all you think about,” Joyce said about her childhood. “I know what it’s like to when there’s not a lot of food in the house.”
As a child growing up in York, she would often struggle in school because her hunger robbed her of focusing on her school work, which later led to a lot of self-esteem issues for Joyce.
One of four sisters, Joyce grew up under her single mother, who supplemented food for her family through government-issued food and with stops at the food pantry. She and her sisters were also enrolled in Community Progress Council’s Head Start program.
When Joyce landed her first job as a teenager with typing skills, food – and shoes, she laughs – was something that she was happy to spend her money on.
As an adult, WIC (Women, Infants & Children) was part of Joyce’s support. When she and her then-husband found themselves both unemployed with a child on the way, that support system was crucial at a critical time.
Years later, as a single working mother of two, she assumed the support system that she had relied on for so many years was no longer available, but when a WIC nutritionist contacted her and informed her she was still eligible, it was an important step to the progress and success Joyce has realized today.
Joyce is now the Executive Director of the York Area Housing Group. She’s brought with her years of experience living in public housing projects as a child and as an adult to help others in her community.
The perspective of poverty both as a child and as an adult is all too familiar to many in York County. While the struggle is difficult no matter the age or generation, the lens in which many – including Joyce – look at their lives in poverty is critical to understanding the challenge.
“As a kid, I was just wondering when I can eat again. As an adult, the stress is about when you can feed your kids,” she said. “I didn’t want them to go through what I went through.”