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Marissa is a smart, dedicated college student. She expects to graduate from Austin Community College (ACC) next year with an associate’s degree in surgical technology. “I’ve always been interested in the medical field,” she said.

Marissa, who is now 19, started attending ACC when she was 17 years old, shortly after the birth of her second son.

“I gave birth to my first son, who is five, at the age of 14. So I struggled a lot those two years, I gave birth to my second son, who has just turned three yesterday, at 16. And at 16 I graduated pregnant with him. It was incredible, and then I went to ACC at 17, and I’m still there now.”

Marissa and her two sons live on their own with the help of an organization that provides affordable housing and childcare to single mothers who are attending school. She also receives SNAP to help her purchase groceries for her family.

“I’ve been out of my house, like living on my own, since 17. That’s when I started at ACC, you know, it was hard, but I mean it’s slowly but surely getting better, like all this that I’ve done, it’s not like paying off, you know what I mean. Especially when I graduate it’s gonna pay off for sure.”

The organization that assists Marissa with housing sent her a flyer to let her know about the turkey distribution where she was interviewed in November. While she spoke to Julia Mandel, a Central Texas Food Bank VISTA member, her youngest son played on the playground.

“One of the staff with the program sent us the flyer, and I was like, okay, that’s very interesting, that would help me out a lot, because it was just his birthday, then car payment, just a lot of stuff that pile up on me and I was kind of scared that I wasn’t, we weren’t going to be able to have a holiday,” said Marissa.

For the past two years, Marissa has been employed part-time in addition to her school work but she still manages to cook for her children more often than not. A few years ago, a group at ACC that Marissa attended taught about healthy eating habits. “We learned a lot of different stuff about what’s just in our food that affects us. Not just like physically but mentally.”

After that, Marissa cut McDonald’s and other fast foods out of her children’s diet. “I could tell the difference. They would get really – they would act real different. Just what’s in their food is so important.”

When asked what, aside from food, is her greatest expense concern, Marissa said, “I’d say household items, like cleaning supplies, ‘cause I’m such a clean freak honestly. My favorite thing is Lysol wipes ‘cause they go to daycare… you know some parents aren’t as clean, and so I like to wipe things down because I cannot afford to miss a day of work. So I would take cleaning supplies because especially during the winter everybody gets sick.”

At the end of her interview, Marissa expressed gratitude for the help she receives. “I appreciate them very much, because like I said I was worried that my boys weren’t going to have a holiday this year. Everything is getting so expensive, it really is, and that’s why I’m going to school because I don’t want to struggle any more. And there’s a lot, not just me, but a lot of different families you know, whether or whatever their background is, or their stories, everybody’s gonna struggle at one point.”

As for Marissa and her sons? “It’s been very difficult honestly, like very, very hard, like and with two kids it’s way harder. But I mean I’ve managed and I’m in a good place in my life right now, but I hope to be better.”

Marissa paused the interview to lean down and speak to her three year-old. “He really wants to do that ladder thing!” She laughs, “He’s so set on it.”