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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Gas, food prices hit rural families hard


Twice a week, Myriam Garcia puts snow chains on her 22-year-old gas guzzler and noses two miles down the hill from her trailer in rural western Montana. Then, instead of turning south and driving the 45 miles to Helena for grocery shopping like she used to, she parks on the side of the road and waits for a friend or neighbor heading into town to give her a lift.

In Helena, Jackie Merenz loads her beat-up SUV with juice boxes, graham crackers and apple sauce she bought at Walmart for her 6-year-old daughter’s birthday party. The 60-mile round trip she makes twice a week for groceries hits her wallet hard — the food stamps don’t go far, gas prices are skyrocketing and to top it off, her husband had to stop working after getting injured.

Living out in Montana’s Big Sky Country often means driving long distances for the basic necessities, and people on tight budgets like Garcia, 49, and Merenz, 26, have long been creative in making ends meet.

But with food prices up nearly 4 percent last month — the biggest leap in 36 years — and the national average for a gallon of gas at a whopping $3.57, this economic double-whammy is stretching family budgets to the breaking point.

“It took me $50 to fill up my car yesterday. And it will be gone in three days, probably,” Merenz said. “We already live in HUD housing, we’re already on Medicaid, we already have food stamps — and we still struggle.”

Merenz and her husband Richard moved to a small house in Boulder, Mont., two years ago after he had sinus surgery and the doctor told him the Oklahoma humidity was not good for him. He got a job at the Montana Developmental Center, which caters to people with developmental disabilities and behavioral problems.

But then in December, a patient broke his nose, knocking Richard Merenz out of work and leaving him in need of two operations. It couldn’t have come at a worse time, with the rising prices of milk and baby food for their three children ages 6, 2 and 8 months.

“Right now, we’re just kind of winging it,” Jackie Merenz said.

Merenz, balancing 2-year-old son Taylor on her hip as she loads the last boxes of Capri-Sun, said she’s had to pay $200 more a month in groceries the last couple of months — on top of the food stamps she uses. Her daughter Andrea’s birthday party will be simple, featuring pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with her kindergarten friends.

About 75 miles north of the Merenzes, Garcia lives on 20 acres of pristine country near Craig. She’s lived there for 12 years in a trailer that’s off the electrical grid, raising chickens and three sons. The children are now grown. Garcia is disabled and receives Social Security payments.

Now gas prices have forced her frugality to an extreme. She runs her generator three hours a day, flipping it on to watch the news at 5 p.m. and for chores afterward. Sometimes the choice comes down to paying for fuel for her home and car or buying food.

“Before, I had three boys so I was always creative with a limited amount of funds. Now I have to be even more creative because gas is so high,” Garcia said.

She uses a wood stove and a propane heater for warmth and takes housesitting jobs in Helena whenever she can to cut down on expenses.

“That is a big, big help. Especially in the wintertime. I get to eat, I get to do laundry and there’s no expenditure on gas once I get there,” she said. “It is kind of a nice little break where you have electricity at the flick of a button and you don’t have to arrange your day around electricity and gas.”

When she’s back home and has to make the twice-weekly journey into town, she tries to avoid driving the long stretch of highway into Helena by carpooling whenever she can. She’ll arrange rides with friends and neighbors, splitting the cost of gas.

“I can’t really afford to drive to town. If I can drive into town once a month, I’m lucky,” she said. “A lot of time people from Craig are leaving for town and I’ll catch a ride with them. But I’m too scared to get in with strangers.”

She’s holding out for summer, when her garden will yield fresh vegetables and her chickens start laying again, giving her some relief from rising prices. But she is convinced the cost of gas and food will only keep going up, and she is preparing for even more frugal measures.

Garcia said she’d like to see the nation’s lawmakers take a page from Lee Iacocca, who took an annual salary of just $1 when he set about turning around Chrysler in the 1980s. Politicians should do the same now to help turn around the U.S., Garcia said, and funnel the salary they forego back into Medicare and food and services for children.

“I’d like to see them step up. They already have income, they’re already very wealthy — many of them are,” she said. “Our country’s in trouble. It wouldn’t be forever. But it would give me faith and hope because I love America.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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8 thoughts on “Gas, food prices hit rural families hard”

  1. HUD Housing, medicaid, Food Stamps – how about getting a job? Those of us that are working are tired of paying for you layabouts.

    • Hi KerriK,

      Paying for the layabouts is what those that are working or retired, but still paying taxes must do to keep our societal tank in order.

      What we’re all ‘enjoying’ is “The Great Society” phenomenon, a 20th century feelgood construct that is now failing. It’s a “Potemkin Village” illusion, but it keeps the natives from getting overly restless. It’s been great while it lasted, but not for much longer.

      I’m fairly well off due to my career, now retired and having managed both my wife and I’s finances well over the years. We didn’t have children. So every day in everyway I make it a point to be generous to my fellow citizens of lesser circumstances. I always keep a supply of tens and twenties with me and hand them out from the cardboard sign on the corner crowd or if panhandled personally do the same. I’m not bragging, but explaining how I feel about my fellow citizens. I am my brothers keeper, me thinking that we should all be in some small or larger way. Btw, I don’t go overboard on this, using common sense, but I am prepared to help and always take time to listen to what people have to say when they approach me. Everyone has their story…no? : )

      Casting dung at the less fortunate accomplishes nothing. We should be casting such at our criminally disposed leadership at all levels of government for defrauding and wasting our tax dollars in addition to stripping this nation of if its manufacturing base during the past twenty years with no sense of conscience whatsoever. Fie on them and not those in need; I.E., victims of these aforementioned political grifters.

      Carl Nemo **==

  2. Wish I had food stamps to buy Capri-Sun. We poor folks that have to make it on our own give our kids water. If they are lucky they get Kool-Aid. People want to complain about gas but they’ll pay $0.55 ($3.32/gal) for a 6-ounce drink box. Kool-aid runs me $0.89/gal including flavoring and sugar.

    You can also save money buying larger volumes and using a sippy cup versus disposable boxes/pouches.

    I’ll be tilling a couple of acres in the next few weeks to get the garden started. I’ve been composting and saving old juice to ferment and use for fertilizer. Have to get my rice cooked and bacteria started for that purpose too. Going with heirloom seeds that we’ll collect at the end of the season to re-plant next year. We like the way they taste versus the hybrids and though it’s more work, I think it’s worth the effort to go more natural with our food.

    Don’t think I’m going to have the money to start the orchard this year as it’s around $25 each for a sapling. Maybe I can scrape together some money and get a few trees started. It takes around five years before they start to fruit.

    We buy all our non-perishable goods in bulk so we pay less and have fewer trips to the store. It takes some planning and some space to put everything, but it’s worth the savings.

    I ride my motorcycle every chance I get. I saved about $500.00 last year taking the bike instead of our car or van. The motorcycle gets around 50 miles to the gallon versus the 25 or so with the other vehicles. Savings increase the more prices increase.

    Anyone that lives out in rural areas knows these risks. It’s the price we pay for living in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s also what’s keeps it rural. We sacrifice some comforts to be left alone and most of us like it that way.

    • Hi Woody,

      I’m into raised bed gardening which is something you might research. It’s far more productive than doing so in ground. Also as you get ahead consider covering the cultivated areas with a large hoop cloche’ which raises the soil temperature earlier in the spring and hold the heat into the fall and early winter.

      First, but not least is to have your soil area tested. Most counties have Ag agents who get paid to do so and they have pro equipment for getting a good overall reading of your area to be cultivated. Soil test kits purchased for home use can be a little ‘iffy’. There’s no charge and they are generally eager to help home gardeners within the county. Some counties have “Master Gardener” progams with SME’s (subject matter experts) for all areas of agriculture and gardening. It’s important to get the soil pH right for certain types of vegetables, fruits and berries.

      I have a Troy Bilt, “Horse” model that’s 30 years old and still working great as a function of timely maintenance. It was handed down to me from a family member. Rear tine tillers make cultivating the ground easier than front tine bouncing bettys.

      Some good sources for equipment is For seeds and rootstocks I use and which has a great variety of orchard rootstocks and berries from all over the world. I have no vested interest in these companies other than for my personal needs. Good Luck!

      Farming and gardening helps takes one mind off the sorry state of affairs our world is in. : )

      Carl Nemo **==

      • I use and have a old Troy Bilt too. Mine is a rear tined one that is about 20 years old. 🙂 isn’t taking orders right now. Imagine that their volume if through the roof. People are worried and for good reason.

        • Here’s two that might help you out in the event you are short on some varieties. Johnny’ and Both supply heirloom varieties with Johnny’s having a good selection.

          It’s fun to look through seed catalogs while the weather is still rotten. I live in the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascades so just seeing a glimpse of the sun during the eight month ‘rainy season’ is a ‘Kodak moment’ … : ))

          Carl Nemo **==

  3. Don’t sweat it folks, we found some new brown people to kill.

    All those trillions of dollars printed up and distributed to America’s corporate sponsors are hard at work speculating up prices, building mechanized death, offshoring more of what’s left of our industry, and making us all beggars on the streets.

    Not to worry though, we have an election coming soon. Almost time to take your frustrations out at the polls. And vote for more of the same.

    Helluva job, America!

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