Helping a Single Dad Keep Feeding His Kids

Jul 1, 2021

Juan Ornelas’ love language is cooking. The main recipients of that love are his kids, Joaquin and Xochitl, the people he calls his main purpose in life. So when Juan lost his job last November due to COVID-19 and affording food – paying all his bills, really – became a challenge, this single dad in Hammond, Indiana, was devastated.

“As long as the fridge is somewhat full, I’m happy,” Juan said. “It means my kids don’t have to want.” That’s no easy task in a house with a growing 16-year-old son, who drinks half a gallon of milk a day.

Thanks to Juan’s job as a chemical operator at a corn syrup refinery, supporting his kids – whom he’s raised on his own since they were very young – had been no problem. But losing that job, and being denied unemployment, changed that.

After he’d been out of work for four months, the bills started piling up. “We got so backed up,” Juan said. “The bills were about to bury me six feet under. It was so hard.”   

A friend mentioned that his wife’s sister had gotten help from The Salvation Army and suggested Juan give them a call. When he contacted the Hammond-Munster Corps Community Center, he was happy to learn about their food pantry.

“The food they gave me was great. The customer service was great,” Juan said. “It meant I was able to feed my kids.” He recently made breaded chicken with broccoli pasta and bell peppers for dinner, all foods from the Army pantry.

A self-professed “mama’s boy,” Juan says he learned to cook at a young age, one of eight kids in his family. He said cooking was a way to express love, a concept that clearly stuck, and he said it boosts his mental health, no small thing for a single dad struggling to support his family in a global pandemic.

Juan was especially grateful for the special care he received at the Army pantry. The staff helped him find foods that work with his dietary needs as a diabetic and saved some Muscle Milk for his active son.

“I don’t know what we would have done without this help. They would have had to go hungry,” he said, referring to his children, a grave note in his voice. “The Salvation Army means help when you can’t find it elsewhere.”

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