Liceny Espaillat has worked her whole life toward attaining the middle class and, as an immigration attorney, she always believed she'd be beyond the range of poverty.
However, in an unexpected turn, since the coronavirus spread throughout the USA a year ago, Espaillat discovered herself in the midst of a divorce and unexpectedly without a job after the courts had closed down.
"I moved from nearly the ladder up -- I am getting there, I am nearly there -- and yet, all of a sudden, that happens, and that is it, no more money," Espaillat informed"Nightline" five weeks after she'd lost her job. "I needed to declare bankruptcy since I had no other option."
She fought to remain afloat when the initial round of national nutritional supplement of $600 per week in unemployment benefits ran dry in July after which her unemployment benefits had been completely cancelled because of a system malfunction.
"If this really is my life and I am a lawyer -- I have an education, you know, I am intelligent, I know where to search for sources -- and I am struggling, what about these other folks which didn't have the luxury to go to school?" Stated Espaillat. "Those that didn't have great parents or those that have mental health problems, drug issues, displaced -- where are they going?"
Espaillat's story is so familiar to the over 22 million people in the U.S. who've lost their jobs because of COVID-19.
"Am I really going to get work in time before everything becomes a bigger mess? It's been mentally devastating, physically overpowering because I am stressed out."
President Joe Biden introduced a $1.9 trillion program earlier this month that comprises a one-time stimulation check of $1,400 for people that are qualified, with incentives for households with kids. If approved by Congress, the COVID-19 aid are the next round of stimulation payments dispersed throughout the nation since the beginning of the pandemic.
She explained she juggles parenting, school and a number of hours of separate legal work out of her bedroom while she appears for a fulltime occupation.
The food which was so abundant in her refrigerator is now infrequent.
"Most of the things in my refrigerator was given to us either my mother or my very best friend. ... I have been accepted [for SNAP], however I must await the card and that may take months," she said in September. "So, that is why I wanna visit the pantry now."
Today, four weeks after, Espaillat is still waiting to get her SNAP Cardwhich will provide her access to the national food assistance program previously called food stamps.
The charity depends on grants and contributions to assist those in need by supplying everything from a food pantry and hot foods to free clothes and lease assist. With just 11 workers, the charity is attempting to satisfy the growing demand locally.
"I have never been into a cabinet before to find food, simply to contribute," she explained.
Forty percent of individuals that are turning to food banks for assistance never depended on them earlier, based on a October 2020 research by Feeding America, the nation's biggest food relief company. The nonprofit estimated that using poverty and unemployment rising, over 50 million Americans have been in danger of food insecurity this past year.
I am hungry. My child's hungry. It does not matter," explained Espaillat in the food pantry. "It is humbling, indeed, to understand that could be me, and now it's me, and it was not and, hopefully tomorrow, it will not function . But now, that is me."
"We had been behind two payrolls since we had no funds coming in, and I feel that is why I adore them , since they understand that somewhere, somehow, that it is going to work out. I tell [our employees ] the folks who we serve, they are able much worse than we are. Far worse"
"I was a wreck. I had been on medication, I was homeless, so I arrived here and they helped me out... That was in 1992 and I have been here ever since," he explained.
Ahead of the pandemic, St. James catered largely to the older and low-income households. The charity says that it saw a very clear change from serving the vast majority of working poor and displaced families to assisting middle- and - upper-middle-class jobless households.
"You'd some who obtained unemployment, they obtained stimulation checks, but without the stimulation checks, they can not continue unemployment," said Vesta Godwin Clarksaid "People who are still here, we understand that they have a need and nobody gets turned off."
Kevin Woodley, who'd worked in fund for 30 decades, is among these pantry novices. He comes to St. James every four months to accumulate enough food to maintain his family of four moving.
"I work on Wall Street, so it is possible to imagine that if companies closed down all our earnings went down," said Woodley. "I have never had help before. However, I do want it today and also this pantry was a boon to me and my loved ones."
"St. James managed to assist me along with my back-rent, so today I am totally at zero -- a major change from being behind six months in lease," she explained.
After a catastrophic year of psychological and financial hardship, Espaillat shared some fantastic news: She began a fulltime job advocating for individuals facing evictions, an area of attention she understands from personal experience.
"All this has taught me I must have faith, I must continue to perform the job and ask for aid," explained Espaillat. "Anyone out there still fighting, I expect they enjoy my narrative and know it does get much better."