Ofelio left his home in rural Mexico almost 30 years ago with no family in the United States, no knowledge of English, but a strong work ethic and determination to find a better life. He hasn't been able to return to Mexico for more than 20 years even though his parents, both in their 80s, would like to see him for what would likely be the last time.

Ofelio still wonders if it was a mistake to come to the United States. Like most immigrants, he wants the things for his children that were much harder to come by in much of Latin America: a secure home, food to fill their stomachs, and an education. Though he did find some of these things, it cost him dearly in his health and well-being.

Ofelio’s first job in the United States was washing dishes in a New York City restaurant. To keep his job he was expected to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day with no sick days, vacation time, or promise of job security or even fair pay. His employers often asked him to work more hours without pay. He knew that if he objected they wouldn’t think twice about letting him go and replacing him.

After a few years in the food industry, Ofelio found that his hourly wage did less and less to feed his growing family each month. Ten years of this work and the constant struggle that came with it drove him into a state of deep depression that he says almost killed him. That’s when he left for Washington, D.C., where he was told opportunities were better.

Ofelio started making tamales out of his home nine years ago for people at church who found traditional tamales hard to come by in Washington, D.C. He laughs about it now, recalling how making tamales is considered a woman’s task in Mexico. After a few months, he was getting big orders on a regular basis, and the prospect of making a living from tamales grew as he built up a client base in the city’s Latino community.

With a lot of hard work and the help of a local nonprofit, Ofelio was able to obtain all of the necessary permits and certifications for his catering business. He now has insurance, a bank account, and even a website and business cards.

As a single father, Ofelio knows that the business is his family’s lifeline, and his income still provides little more than essential needs. "If I’m not working, we don’t have anything." He combines tamale order drop-offs with school pick-ups and prepares tamales and family meals in the same kitchen.

With a lot of competition, Ofelio understands that success takes dedication to quality. He is up by 5:00 AM most days to cook and spends his afternoons and evenings selling and making deliveries. In between he finds time to be a dad.

The one thing Ofelio couldn’t get was a start-up loan--not even a few thousand dollars to move his business out of his home kitchen. By bank standards, his business was too small and too much of a risk. Without access to capital, Ofelio has no ability to move beyond just barely making it.

Ofelio has big ideas. He wants to increase production by renting a commercial kitchen, purchasing a delivery vehicle, and hiring full-time help. Beyond the business, he’d love to take classes to improve his English and be able to afford quality childcare for his two youngest daughters. But none of that can happen when survival is the top concern.

Ofelio has asked banks for a loan many times. They always turn him away. And most government programs won’t provide loans to businesses as small as his. He says to get a loan for a commercial kitchen he'd have to save a minimum of $20,000. But that number is far out of reach.
You decide to come here to earn money, but when you arrive you find it’s all a lie and it’s nothing like you thought.
Dawn is a single mother, nurse, and legal assistant in Boise, Idaho who has always worked hard to earn a good life for herself and her son. In the wake of the Great Recession, Dawn's employer let her go without warning. Idaho's unemployment swelled to a twenty-five year high, and Dawn was caught in the middle of it. She looked everywhere for a job--even McDonald’s. They told her she was overqualified.
While she was unemployed, Dawn received SNAP (food stamps). The safety net was there for her family when work wasn't. It was hard (the average SNAP benefit is less than $1.50 per meal), but it helped provide nutritious food for herself and her son. She had to plan every meal of the month to stretch the food supply, and found herself grocery shopping late at night to avoid ridicule.
Dawn was so relieved to accept a job with the state of Idaho after about a year on SNAP. But she never forgot the undue shame that she was made to endure during that rough time--and the millions of others who still face it today in their communities. Now she's speaking out against the misconceptions that feed this social stigma.
Dawn was mortified when she was first asked to tell her story in public. But she knew she couldn't stay silent. Since then, she’s never turned down an invitation to speak out against SNAP stigma. She’s spoken at fundraisers, community events, and even radio interviews. Talking about SNAP at an elaborate benefit dinner charging hundreds of dollars per plate isn’t easy, but she does it anyway, reminding herself "It's not about me." photo credit: ReThink Church
Dawn calls hunger a ground zero issue: "If you can’t get out of your house, if you don't have the energy to think, you can’t speak out, you can’t run for office," Dawn says. "You can’t do anything when you're held back by hunger or too embarrassed to get out and accept help."
In June 2013, Dawn brought her story to Congress in Washington, D.C., where lately SNAP and other safety net programs have faced severe cuts. She walked into her congressman's office and gave him her old SNAP card. "Okay, you have $3 to feed your family dinner tonight," she told him. "Oh, wait--Congress just cut SNAP and you now only have $2.70. Go for it."
Dawn uses social media to challenge assumptions about hunger and the stigma--including her Twitter account (@DawnPhipps). She tweets politicians regularly and is friends with them on Facebook. She even pins hunger awareness photos on Pinterest. The reactions she receives translate into volunteer hours, donations, and challenged assumptions.
Dawn says that most people she runs into in Idaho, including politicians, still think that food banks are the solution to hunger. So she works very hard to remind people that charity can't do it alone. The federal government provides 23 of every 24 bags of food assistance.
Like most Idahoans, Dawn has a firm sense of self-reliance. She considers it a strength, but fears that it can feed a hurtful stigma. She doesn’t understand why any person working full time at $7.25 per hour (Idaho's minimum wage) could be expected to support a family without help. "You’d have to work 86 hours a week at that wage to provide enough for just two people. The food's got to come from somewhere."
Like most Idahoans, Dawn has a firm sense of self-reliance. She considers it a strength, but fears that it can feed a hurtful stigma. She doesn’t understand why any person working full time at $7.25 per hour (Idaho's minimum wage) could be expected to support a family without help. "You’d have to work 86 hours a week at that wage to provide enough for just two people. The food's got to come from somewhere."
Dawn is confident that we can end hunger in America, but she admits that discouragement can set in when she thinks of the 50 million people who remain stalked by it. Advocacy has shown her that she's not alone in the fight. In Washington, D.C., she met people like former CongressmanTony Hall and learned about his work to end hunger in Ohio: "Did you know there's a city in Ohio that has no hunger? If they can do it—why can't we?"
I still get embarrassed, I still get ashamed. But I realized that it’s not about me...If I speak out and someone thinks a little differently about hunger—that made my embarrassment worth it.
"This is how immigrants survive"
"A young man makes a mistake... pays his debt, walks out of prison...
that’s when his real
sentence begins."
"it’s not fair to get sick and lose everything."
"The truth is that most of
us are not deadbeats and leeches. We have jobs.
We have families who
need to eat."