Editor's note: Jessica Ann is a restaurant owner who's blogging about trying to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic at My Rebound by FOX 17. She founded The Candied Yam, a Grand Rapids restaurant serving Southern cuisine, in 2016. She is married with a daughter who just graduated high school and an adult son. She lives in Kentwood.
As a young child, my twin Sissy and I would eat out of trash cans. A fact that I was ashamed of until recent years. Our biological mother had to feed her own addictions.
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We would be extremely hungry. Funny how I don’t remember being scared as a 4-year-old walking around the streets of Lansing, looking for food to eat.
The most help and nourishing meals would come from the strangest places. One from a mosque full of Muslim men. I vividly remember my Sissy and I looking in a trash outside their mosque. They spoke in their language to each other as they pointed to us. One of the gentlemen came closer and asked if we were hungry. Monica was also the outspoken one. “Yes!” she said. He told us that we had to come in, pray and at the end of prayer, we would be welcomed to eat. As far as we were concerned, a lil' prayer with a side of chicken and potatoes worked fine for us!
I also remember a very skinny Caucasian woman who would leave her door open for us to pet her cat, and she would always leave nuts/seeds and dried fruit as a snack for us. I believed she knew our situation but chose not to get involved. Or maybe she was the one who called CPS? I don’t know. I wish I could recall her name. She was very kind and gentle. She was an angel.
You are probably thinking you are reading a fiction story, huh? Nope. This really truly happened. What? Are you going so numb living in today’s society, thinking that caring people don’t exist? Things sure are not like they use to be, huh?
By the end of summer, we were put into foster care. Huge proponents of foster and adoption, this particular situation was not a good one personally for us. Sometimes in life, you just get a bum deal. Sigh.
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At the tender age of eight, we were blessed to be chosen by a forever family. Our now forever parents would come in like a page out of a type of Disney movie or storybook. God designated our new adoptive parents, Ed and Joyce, to be parents that would discipline with love. They taught us so many valuable life lessons. As pre-teens, we would plant gardens with fresh veggies and melons. Harvest time was the best! We got to take our goodies and sell them at the farmers market. Sissy and I laugh now but so enjoy visiting the markets as adults, because although still affordable, you might see collard greens — two for a buck fifty. Boy, was this dynamic duo selling collard greens and for a bargains at 5 cents each. LOL! On a good day, Sissy and I would split enough money for ice cream, as long as we tithed 10% of what we made and shared our left items we did not sell with our community seniors. Thinking back on it all, my parents set us up. They never asked for gas money (probably never made enough to cover a half of a tank). As a matter of fact, we still owe them for the seeds, the fertilizer, all the time they took to till and tend to OUR garden. Thank you Mom and Dad.
I started my restaurant, The Candied Yam, delightful Southern Cuisine, because I believed, it would allow me to have a kitchen to spread my love for food and the healing that I believe it brings through serving others. My forever parents taught us that growing fresh food is a gift for us to share with those in our community. During this time of COVID, there are many families who are still in need of food. Feeding America West Michigan reported a 235% increase of those in need of food. There are 750,000 children in our state that qualify for free and reduced lunch. I am so encouraged by the many restaurants that share in feeding those in need. As an owner who has experienced first-hand the feeling of being helpless and hungry, I am so very proud to be able to share our resources with so many in need. We have been able to be a part of some pretty amazing programs like The Hand to Hand Win Win Program of West Michigan, Farm Bureau Insurance Economic Give Back and our own Random Yams of Kindness, where we are able to gift a warm scratch-made meal with love to seniors, first responders and those who just need someone to know that they care.
There are very small profit margins in food or shall I say in my food. I remember only months ago paying my butcher $1.69 for my ground beef. This morning, I paid $4.99. Frowny face. My fresh collard greens are also up a few buckets a case. I am hoping that we can see different pricing soon, because at these prices, I can’t afford to offer many specials — if any at all. BUT one thing I must never ever do is forget where I came from and the lessons that Mom and Dad taught, one nickel at a time. While I am living my dreams, someone in need is relying on my dream to meet a basic daily need.
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