By Dylan Deprey
On the corner of 28th and Locust, the MarJani House had always been the snack spot. From a plate of nachos to a refreshing soda, Ms. Monique Bateman was known as the “Candy Lady.”
Along with working as a daycare provider, her snack food side hustle was a way to help make ends-meet. After adopting four foster children, along with her six children, she was at the mercy of ten hungry bellies.
“Now it’s like, instead [of] need[ing] six cans of food I need eight, any time dinner comes around,” Bateman said.
She started to hit her local food pantries in the area. While collecting food to feed her family, she noticed there had been a surplus of stuff she didn’t use. Whether it was the cans of powdered milk or cans of vegetable broth, she was not using the products and it was going in the trash.
Instead of tossing a stockpile of groceries, she decided to put it out and let her neighbors grab what they needed.
“It started by putting it out by the garbage cans, and people would come by, look at it and sometimes grab stuff,” Bateman said. “The first couple of days they took it, but I was like, it might be intimidating if it’s by the garbage.”
She then moved the milk crate full of food from the backyard to a fire hydrant near her house. After stepping it up from a makeshift stand of flipped over milk crates, to full boxes of food, she had gained the attention from local food pantries.
She had the hook-up on bread from a woman at a local pantry. Even when the pantry had closed for two weeks, Bateman had sought out the “bread-lady,” to hand out loaves house-to-house on her block.
This relationship had eventually grown into serving free Thanksgiving meals, as well as continuing to hand out bread.
Now that Bateman has taken on a new role in her neighborhood, she made the decision to fill out the non-profit paperwork on a long Greyhound bus ride from Iowa. What was normally a 60-day notice, had been approved in less than a month.
“Once I got that I was up and running,” Bateman said.
The MarJani House food program serves hot meals to neighborhood children Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m. throughout summer, along with family meal boxes every Monday during the winter.
Along with feeding children from her front door, she also heads to 28th and Locust, and 28th and Elder Wallace.
“Sometimes it gets tiring, but every time I get up and go,” Bateman said.
Don’t let the stacks of food in Bateman’s pantry fool you—finding free food is an art. Sometimes it is about knowing the right person, other times it is about knowing the best spots and the right times.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday’s, she scopes out the Casa Maria truck that drops food at 1:30 p.m.
“You would be surprised, there are boxes of strawberries and other fruit and it goes straight out of the grocery store into their truck and onto the street,” Bateman said. “Like, I missed it yesterday and ‘awh’ it was stressful because that means I’m responsible for Thursday and Friday.”
If Bateman is short on food, she will ask local corner stores and even some of the other neighborhood moms for something, but ultimately, she pays out of pocket. But, it is all for the love of the children in her community.
“You know some of them wake up on these humid days, hot and sweaty, and some might not have electricity, so they don’t have fans and air, so they are on the porch by 6 a.m. By, 9 a.m. they are playing basketball in the street, now they are sweating like pigs by 11 a.m. So, by then they are looking for a snatch-and-grab at a corner store or somebody’s car,” Bateman said. “If you give them some food, they will keep dribbling the ball for a while.”
Along with feeding, she fills in as a guardian for the time-being whether parents are hard at work or struggling with their own vices.
“I don’t even want to know your story, if your kid is hungry, I will feed them,” Bateman said. “If I help somebody’s kids out, maybe they won’t be as stressed out as a parent and can maintain that bond with their children.”
She said the community needed to be there for each other. Although she does not see if often, she hopes people can be empathetic and simply help out.
As the days shorten and kids are wide-eyed with school looming in the distance, the MarJani House is hosting its first back-to-school celebration on August 26. Along with a stuffed backpack giveaway, there will be handing out free uniforms and providing free haircuts. There will also be music, food and entertainment.
“We want these kids to be fresh when they go back,” Bateman said.
For more details visit https://www.facebook.com/monique.denise.127