meet along the way: Theresa Taylor

By Amanda Flinn

Editor’s Note: This story was first published as “Faces of Southeast Missouri: Theresa Taylor” in the July 2024 issue of The Best Years.

Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

Theresa Taylor’s experiences with food insecurity started at a young age. Growing up in Bernie, Mo., she remembers her family getting assistance from local food banks and churches. Her dad was on Social Security, and her mom worked part-time as a waitress. Their combined income for a family of six wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Taylor married at 18, but after her husband Michael lost his job, they moved to Tennessee to stay with family. Within two years, they were living out of their car.

“Money was tight,” Taylor says. “We didn’t have a place to cook, so we’d go to Family Dollar or Dollar General to get easy food; stuff you could carry in a backpack.”

Taylor visited the welfare office and reached out to local churches for assistance. She had worked at Sonic in the past, and people at the church helped her get re-hired at a different location. Aware of her situation, the manager allowed Taylor to wash her uniform at work. While the income helped, they were still without a home.

In 1983, they moved back to Missouri. Taylor worked as a CNA at a nursing home in Dexter, Mo., and on the chicken farm at the Tyson Foods plant, where she was close enough to walk to work. Due to her husband’s health, he remained unemployed. They had two children and were struggling to keep up.

“I was trying to figure out how to budget food,” Taylor says. “I had to forget my pride. It didn’t bother me. I asked the churches [for assistance] again.”

After a stay in Texas, where Taylor’s husband passed away, she settled in Sikeston, Mo., in 2009. Now as a widow on a limited income, Taylor gets a monthly food box from the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. The supply of beans, rice, dried milk, healthy cereals, canned fruits and vegetables reduces the number of tough decisions she has to make daily or weekly.

“The box of food makes [my money] stretch,” Taylor says. “I don’t have to decide between medicine and food.”

While in line for food one day, Taylor learned about an action council helping to solve food insecurity issues within Southeast Missouri. For the past nine months, Taylor has been working with the council, the Sikeston police chief and the Scott County Transit Authority to discuss possible solutions. In June, she attended the Elevating Voices Power Summit hosted by Feeding America in Washington, D.C., a “nationwide network of food banks, food pantries and community-based organizations in the United States working to create a future where no one is hungry,” according to www.feedingamerica.org.

Taylor was among 50 neighbor-advocates chosen to represent food banks across the country. Accompanied by Natasha Goolsby, community outreach coordinator at Southeast Missouri Food Bank, Taylor flew on a plane for the first time. As an advocate, she wants to see more people get involved with the food banks and have a heart for the homeless, the elderly and others dealing with food insecurity. According to Taylor, it’s an issue that “affects the whole neighborhood.”

Because of this, Taylor pays attention to the people around her, those who live nearby or are just passing through. If she sees someone with a backpack, she stops for a conversation or runs into the store for a granola bar or juice. If she has $5, she gives it.

“I used to be shy, but I’ve learned the best thing is to get out there and meet people,” Taylor says. “Even if you’re homeless, you’re human. And they need respect just like anybody else.”

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