If it wasn’t for the food banks and things like that, I honestly don’t know what a lot of us would do.
– Pat Ozley

Karen Gillespie, 50, and Pat Ozley, 54, share the services that have helped them adjust to raising grandchildren during the COVID-19 pandemic. They worked to maintain social distancing while acquiring the food that their families need. We hear first from Karen. 

Karen: Raising grandchildren—it’s been rewarding but it has been some tough roads.

Pat: At first, I’m going to be honest, it was shell shock. I went from a 28-year corporate career like you did to being a grandmother with a three and four-year-old. I wouldn’t trade it now for the world.

Karen: When I was raising Iyana I had to go through a lot of different steps in order to figure this out. I didn’t have the hand of someone showing me. And now COVID-19 has showed up here fiercely with this population of grandparents. So I wanted to get your perspective on it.

Pat: The biggest thing with us is we’re trying to learn the new new with the kids’ schooling. McKenna is eight and Bubba is seven. I became a homeschool teacher overnight. So we had to explain to them what was going on, why is our whole world changed?

The biggest thing for us was making them feel comfortable and ensuring them that it’s all going to be okay. You’re not going to school, but I am your new teacherwe’re all learning this together. I did math the way that it was taught to me back in the day when we were going to school. So it was a lot of change for them, but it was also a big change for us.

Karen: My daughter passed away shortly after she gave birth so Iyana has been in my care for about 18 years. So we have been through this process of getting her through elementary and middle school. Now this was her first year going to college. And we are in a middle of a pandemic. I needed to go pick her up from college and I’m in a high-risk factor. She’s on a campus that houses thousands of children that has not been social distancing. So I’m saying to myself, how do I do this? And so we’ve been Facebooking, FaceTiming, but it’s still not like that touch of a mother/daughter that you’ve been used to every step of the way.

Pat: I’m high risk too. I’m an asthmatic. So we really had to be careful with people coming in and out of the house. My big thing was, we’re not going to kiss each other. We’re going to do the elbow thing.

Karen: How was it for the groceries? Was it easy getting groceries? 

Pat: It wasn’t pleasant. As soon as they closed down Georgia, everything disappeared—toilet paper, food, the shelves were bare. I did worry about having everyday staples like your milk or your bread, ‘cause that was the first thing to go. There was weeks that you just did without. One thing that has really helped me is the food banks. There’s a place that we can go to that’s called Grandma’s Kitchen that you get a vegetable box, or you’ll get some meat. But if it wasn’t for the food banks and things like that, I honestly don’t know what a lot of us would do.

Karen: My passion is to help other grandparents navigate these systems and look in our community to see what gaps in services we can connect with to offer them those services. As you know, it takes a village to raise a child.

Pat: Absolutely.

 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.