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Faces of Hunger: Judith Escamilla

Judith Escamilla lives a life punctuated by stress, uncertainty and constant motion.

And yet to all outward appearances, Judith cuts an impressively serene figure – even as she describes the balancing act that she and her family undertake in order to make this a better world for a handful of special children.

Judith and her husband, Manny, have their own children, but they are also foster parents to four other children – two of whom are special needs. It is an undertaking that requires love and patience in abundance as Judith and her family work faithfully to heal wounds and provide stability to children unused to the comforts so many of us take for granted.

And were it not for the help of a committed support structure, it could so easily overwhelm the Escamillas, preventing them from engaging their life-changing mission.

“Fostering is not a one-family thing. It takes an entire community,” Judith said. “Some people have told me I care too much, but you look at these kids and you tell me how to slow down.”

One aspect in particular allows the Escamillas to maintain their torrid pace: monthly food supplements provided by Gainesville’s Hopewell Baptist Church, a partner agency of Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

After becoming a foster mother in December 2017, Judith was eventually forced to leave her job in the public service sector in order to best serve her new children. And balancing constant trips to doctors, courts, schools and more, while also stretching Manny’s paycheck to its limit, left Judith looking for help.

“When you have just one income and that many people in a household – unless you’re some kind of surgeon or something – you’re going to be around the poverty level,” Judith said. “We were never extravagant people; we’re just trying to be wise with what we’ve got and are chasing after God and following that lifestyle.”

So it was that another foster mother pointed her toward Hopewell Baptist. And it was there Judith discovered respite from a number of worries – not least of which was healthy eating for her rapidly-expanding family.

“Without Hopewell and Georgia Mountain Food Bank we’d be fostering one child and considering if we were doing the right thing because it would be so hard to provide for even the one extra child. I definitely don’t think we could take on four kids. Before coming (to Hopewell) we found ourselves scrimping, and we were getting to the end of our wits,” Judith said. “I had to stop working because of fostering two special needs kids. It takes all of my time.”

Time and money dominate the thoughts of so many Hall County residents – in fact, 13.3 percent of Hall County residents live at or below the poverty level – and the Escamilla family is certainly no exception. Yet the support of places like Hopewell Baptist and Georgia Mountain Food Bank are a big reason why four children can find, at least, temporary loving care, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

“Without places like this there might be more kids out there without a good home,” said Georgia Mountain Food Bank Executive Director Kay Blackstock. “We’re lucky in Hall County to have the resources we do here; it’s just about access.”

Out of its more than 70 plus partner agencies in its five county service area, Georgia Mountain Food Bank maintains 37 Hall County partners and programs that distributed 2,661,368 pounds of food in 2018, including Hopewell Baptist, which serves approximately 55 households per month. Twenty-seven percent of those aided are children and 14 percent are seniors.

“It can be very humbling to seek out food, but they are very accommodating and helpful here,” Judith said. “And they didn’t make me feel ashamed. I was worried, because I might not look like I needed help…I drove up in a car. But they listened to me and understood right away and do their best to help us.”

Quite often food is a central preoccupation for a foster child, many of whom come from lives in which their next meal is far from certain.

“We have kids in the home now that are food insecure because they’re not used to having access to food at all times,” Judith said. “We’ve found them hoarding food in their rooms. And they come in to our home telling us how hungry they were before they came into our home. We’ve had our first two foster children for more than a year, and they’re still not always confident of where they will get their next meal.”

The Escamillas, however, can rest easy in the knowledge that – at least in their house – that will never be an issue thanks to the work of organizations like Hopewell Baptist and Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

Judith also loves the flexibility provided by foods received from Hopewell Baptist, as she strives to avoid processed sugars – “it’s not healthy for kids to have too much,” she says – and completely avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is an allergen for one of her foster children.

With fresh fruits and vegetables often on the supply list, Judith knows her children are getting just what they need, even if she must occasionally get creative after a long day of running around.

“The kids call me Iron Chef because of the things I can throw together for a meal!” Judith chuckled. “You just learn to live on the fly and go with it.”

Their nutrition also goes beyond simple physical sustenance, as the Escamillas use family meal time as an anchor for their very lives.

“We are very much home cookers; we eat out every now and then, like get a pizza. But it’s important to us to eat a meal as a family and have that time together,” Judith said.

Thanks to the work and foods supplied by Hopewell Baptist and Georgia Mountain Food Bank it is a time that the Escamillas know they may continue to treasure – no matter the changes their labor of love and faith may ring in their household.

Georgia Mountain Food Bank (GMFB), a Partner Distribution Organization of the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB), collects surplus food and grocery products for distribution to nonprofit partner agencies serving the hungry in the Georgia Mountain region. Located in Gainesville, GMFB collaborates with ACFB to provide food to nonprofits with hunger relief programs in Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union counties. These programs provide direct assistance to families and individuals who are in need of food assistance and may range from churches, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, rehabilitation programs, child care centers and nursing homes.

“It is thanks to the hard work of our 70 plus partner agencies throughout northeast Georgia that we can help people like the Escamilla family and their admirable work in helping children,” Kay Blackstock adds. “Our community has always been stricken by hunger, but you may be surprised at the many faces of it. Judith and Manny need our help because of the help and shelter they provide others, and, through people like them, it’s uplifting to see the difference we can all make.”