No matter where or how you celebrate the holidays, we all have family traditions that make this season special. For long-time Flagstaff Family Food Center volunteer, Merna, and her family, those traditions are centered around cooking a festive, bountiful meal together. Even the youngest family members, Merna’s five year-old twin nieces, pitch in. It’s really important to Merna that the girls get to help her roll out pie dough and tear up bread for stuffing. “That was done for me when I was young, so I want them to have the same experience,” Merna says. Merna took her nieces in when her brother was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident, bringing her household size to six. Merna says it’s hard to care for that many people on a fixed income, and even more challenging during the holidays when visiting relatives will add five more mouths to feed, including her son and daughter who respectively serve in the Navy and Air Force. “It’s a big deal to have them home for the holidays and I want to make it special.”

Merna has been volunteering at the Food Bank for years and started needing food assistance when she took in her brother’s children. Around the same time, her sister started having health problems and Merna became her caretaker. As the sole care provider, Merna says that “this year I just need the help.” 

“You’re clipping coupons, you’re doing everything you can to make it work,” but sometimes it’s just not enough to make ends meet. As a volunteer at the Food Bank, helping load cars with family food boxes and produce, Merna knows how hard it can be for people to ask for help. “People are embarrassed to ask for help, especially around the holidays.” Merna says the additional stress the holidays bring can be overwhelming – and is common for many families here in Flagstaff. “I actually made myself sick from the stress,” she says. “For a lot of families, the stress is the hardest part.” 

This year, Merna is planning on getting her Thanksgiving turkey from the Food Bank and tells us that it will make all the difference in her holiday budgeting. “It’s amazing what this is doing for me and my family,” she says. “I can’t be more thankful.”

*The Flagstaff Family Food Center distributes emergency family food boxes Tuesday through Saturday from 9am – 1pm. The Food Bank on Huntington will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and Friday, November 29th. The Food Bank will be open for food box distribution on Saturday, November 30th from 9am – 1pm. The Kitchen on 2nd St. will be open for a hot meal every day (including holidays) from 4 – 5:30pm.