For much of her adult life, Olivia had known adversity. But the greatest test of her spirit and endurance would come at the age of 53 when she became permanent caregiver for her three-month-old grandson, Richard. The story of how Richard came to be in Olivia’s care was a tragedy in itself. The baby’s father, Olivia’s son, had served in the military, including an 18-month tour in Iraq. When he returned to the States, he had changed. No longer the responsible, patriotic young man Olivia had known, he was angry and troubled; after being discharged from the Army, he turned violent. In the course of a robbery attempt, which also involved his wife, he killed a man. With both her son and daughter-in-law incarcerated, Olivia stepped in to care for her tiny grandson.
The timing was tough for Olivia: she had already raised two other sons and had two other grandchildren. In addition, she had suffered an accident on the job while working as a nuclear medicine tech and had become disabled. For some
time, she had been struggling to live on the income from her disability payment, and had moved in with a friend, sleeping on her floor. Olivia knew that her meager funds would not cover her grandson’s food and other necessities, but she
was determined to care for him.
A long-time activist, Olivia sought advice from an old friend, Jim Graham, who serves on the District of Columbia’s City Council. She says that Jim “firmly and fairly” insisted that she seek help from the City and pointed her to the Columbia
Heights Collaborative. Ruled ineligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) because of her disability payment, Olivia applied to the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program to cover Richard’s formula, baby food, and
other nutrition needs. She also received help in enrolling Richard in Medicaid.
But then, Olivia notes, it was the community who embraced her. Martha’s Table, a valued local resource, came to her aid with groceries and clothing. Richard was enrolled in the organization’s day care center, and only recently left there
to attend the preschool at Francis-Stevens Educational Campus.
Olivia continues to rely on local food sources, including So Others May Eat, the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and SHARE. This year, Olivia prepared her Thanksgiving meal from a food basket she received from a local program.
Olivia is enrolled in the Grandparent Caregivers Program, administered by the DC Child and Family Services Agency and receives a small stipend that helps her afford to care for Richard. She is also working with LIFT, a program that arranged
for her to work one-on-one with a student at American University in negotiating a dispute with her current landlord.
As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Martha’s Table, So Others May Eat, SHARE, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church make up a large part of Olivia and Richard’s village—and they are grateful to have such a
wonderful support system. Still, it takes a lot of work for this grandmother to keep things together. The payments Olivia receives are not automatic, her food resources are scattered and barely adequate, and her disability makes everything harder. But if you meet Olivia and talk with her, she expresses only gratitude to all the organizations that help her survive. She says: “I don’t have a sense of entitlement, but I am grateful for the support.
For more stories about hunger and nutrition across the generations, download Hunger and Nutrition in America: What's at Stake for Children, Families and Older Adults