Special Report Food Security
Who is affected?
One Central Ohio woman’s story
The crown might have made sense, had Hollywood delivered on its promise.
Christina Encarnanze was 16 when she won a beauty pageant in her native Spain. With the title came a free trip to London and a chance to leave the hardscrabble life she describes as “poor, poor, poor.”
Her journey led to matrimony. Alongside her U.S.-born husband, Encarnanze envisioned a Tinseltown-like America — the only America she thought existed. “Diamonds falling from the skies,” she says, her fingers raining down the imagery.
Encarnanze is well-educated, although she doesn’t have an academic degree. Her husband was in the Air Force, so she learned different cultures as she moved around and lived them. Once, as a rare foreigner invited to a Saudi baby shower, she wore a hijab and waited for the men to eat the halal goat meat before it was presented to the women. And she’s lost count of the Japanese weddings she has attended.
“I always wanted to see and learn,” she says. “We never had money for my education, so I learned any way I could.”
Eventually, she and her husband settled in Columbus. They struggled on his military income to provide for their three daughters. One graduated from Ohio State, one from Capital University and one, sadly, died at age 17. Financial hardship prevented Encarnanze from pursuing the nursing career she’d once attempted in London.
Like many low-income parents, she put her children’s needs first. They were more vulnerable. She worked at a department store for not much more than minimum wage to help feed and educate the girls. The family qualified for welfare, but pride kept Encarnanze and her husband from applying for it.
“I thought we weren’t poor enough to get welfare, but really, we were,” she says.
Encarnanze is 79 now, with big, soft, brown eyes that must have given her an edge in that pageant 63 years ago. She’s caring for her husband, who suffers from dementia. The couple is on Social Security, and she’s pitting food costs against medical costs against utility costs. That’s only part of the reason she was at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank on a recent Tuesday.
Tiny flecks of glitter on her upper chest and neck catch the sunlight, and rhinestones on her hat spell out “Palm Beach.” Despite a hard life, she glows.
“I started volunteering for the food bank because I wanted to help,” she says, “and I wanted to stay active and healthy and strong.
“When I was volunteering, they allowed us to take food, and I realized I qualified for it. So then I got to try foods that I’d never had before because I was only buying what I could afford, like 99-cent white bread instead of wheat. And I wouldn’t be drinking the juice I have right now if not for the food bank. Or, if I did have it, I’d water it down to make it last.”
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