Since everything was shut down, it was really hard to access resources. And so I knew when all of this happened that I needed to get SNAP benefits right away.
– Anntesha Chesterton
Anntesha Chesterton tells her colleague at Foster Kinship, Alison Caliendo, about the joys and challenges of being a grandfamily caregiver, and the resources that have helped her along the way. Foster Kinship helps families with children who can’t live safely with their parents or whose parents have passed away.
Alison: How did your grandfamily come together?
Anntesha: My younger sister had got into a lot of relationships that were bad for her. She dealt with substance abuse. It’s a really different situation when you take in a relative’s child because you love the birth parent and you know that they could be better. So it was really heartbreaking to see my sister go in that downward spiral. But I needed to care for the kids.
So I took her four children on top of having my three children and they were all under the ages of seven. There were a number of challenges from financial to just emotional support and then of course, when you have that many kids in the home, they eat all the time.
I grew up in foster care and so I knew that there were some resources such as TANF and SNAP. There’s a lot of requirements with TANF that I really struggled with because I knew that my sister and her husband would have to pay child support. But as the time went on, I really needed that financial support. And so I applied for TANF benefits and got approved.
Alison: What’s changed for you and your family since this pandemic started?
Anntesha: Since everything was shut down, it was really hard to access resources. And so I knew when all of this happened that I needed to get SNAP benefits right away, because I would have a house full of kids and not enough money to be able to feed them. And so I remember going up to the welfare office that next morning, when it all happened. They were closed. Somebody that was there told me, just put your application in online. And I did that. About two weeks after, I was able to get approved for my SNAP benefits.
In the meantime, what I did was look for food banks and I would take the kids up to the schools that provided them breakfast and lunch. We would do that every day. I had really bad anxiety just leaving the house. I have autoimmune issues and so if I were to get sick, it could be fatal for me. But then as a mother, I felt like I had to put my kids first and get them what they needed. And so at the end of the day, I just had to do it.
Alison: I didn’t know you had to wait two weeks to get SNAP benefits. I think that we as a community did not come together around families like yours to keep them safe.
Anntesha: I felt it would’ve been easier if maybe they had the food resources at like the bus stops. Cause it’s much closer to the house and I can have my kids walk up to the bus stop, get their lunch and breakfast and then come back.
Alison: That’s a good idea. Log it for the next pandemic.
Alison: You hold it together so well. You’re an amazing mom, caregiver, aunt, sister, and fighter and advocate for families. So thank you so much, Anntesha.
Anntesha: Thank you.
The audio-only story can be accessed here.
This segment was produced by StoryCorps, a non-profit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. It was made possible with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and in partnership with Generations United. The participants are members of Generation United’s GRAND Voices Network. In summer 2020, StoryCorps recorded this conversation as part of a project that focused on helping us understand the unique impacts COVID-19 is having on various types of families, including grandfamilies.