SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Many people assume charities help people who are jobless, but that isn't always the case at The Banquet.
"They're getting up everyday; they're going to work. They're paying rent; they're paying insurance. But you can't pay rent and buy food when you're only making $9 an hour. So they're making choices," Director of The Banquet Tamera Jerke-Liesinger said.
That includes Dara French, a single mother struggling to make ends meet.
"I'm the only one working in the household. And supporting three kids is very tough, very tough. I mean, my job at Raven is awesome. But it doesn't cover all the bills," French said.
French has a full-time job, but it doesn't provide for all of her family's needs. So she uses The Banquet a few times a week to help balance expenses.
"It's very frustrating. Sometimes I wonder if I'm going to have enough gas to get to work. Because my kids' nutrition comes before that. And there's been times when I've walked to work before, or I've had to catch rides with co-workers. And that's not very fun having to depend on someone," French said.
French is one of many guests who use The Banquet not because they can't afford any food, but because they want to do what's best for their families.
"They maybe could serve macaroni and cheese to their children at home. They could maybe afford that meal. But they know that's not a healthy meal for their children. So they put their pride aside and they bring their children here, so their children have a good, well-balanced meal," Jerke-Liesinger said.
"Sometimes they have meals here that I normally wouldn't be able to feed my kids on my tight budget. It's a God-send to have places like The Banquet," French said.
Volunteers, like Paige Lombardi, are what keep the non-profit going.
"My most favorite part about coming here is serving the desert, because I get to see all of the little children's faces light up," Lombardi said.
Not only do volunteers help pay for the food and serve it, they also develop a special relationship with the guests.
"It's not what you think. It's an amazing experience. It's worth it for both you, the people around you and you become friends with the people who come in and out of here. There's familiar faces here everyday," Lombardi said.
But sometimes a shortage of volunteers forces guests to do the work, especially at breakfast.
"We've done it before. We volunteered here a few times. Once through my work and then on my own. And it's an experience that you'll never get otherwise. It's amazing," French said.
Though some people may have a pre-conceived notion of those who visit The Banquet, French hopes she and her family can be seen just like everybody else.
"I like to think of us as a normal family. But I think normal families have a mom and a dad and then the children. And I don't have the luxury of having a dad. So you know, it's just me. I'm mom and dad. And sometimes that gets tough. But we do it; we do it," French said.
For more information on helping out at The Banquet, and to find their hours, you can call 605-335-7066 or check out its website.
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