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Candace Pegues

Candace D. Pegues is the definition of a super-mom! Originally a single mother to three sons, Candace found herself in a precarious situation when she became the primary caretaker of her two nieces and one nephew. The transition into this new family dynamic was undoubtedly difficult, but for Candace, being a mom means everything. “My kids are my world. There are really no words to explain.” With seven distinct personalities under one roof, life is far from mundane. “The kids are goofy, funny, curious, and adventurous.” Despite the hardships that may come with maintaining a household of seven, Candace’s love is abundant. She does everything with her kids including walking, coloring, baking, and arts and crafts!  

In March 2020, Candace was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure and found herself in a tricky situation. She was required to go on dialysis, a procedure that takes four hours, three times a week at a treatment center. Each week, Candace sets aside 12 hours, not including time for travel and preparation, to receive this lifesaving therapy. At the time of her diagnosis, Candace was working at Dollar General, her sole source of income. The grogginess, nausea, dizziness, and headaches - all common side effects of dialysis - were taking a toll on her ability to work and care for her kids. Simply put, “some days you’re going to be tired, and you can’t get up from dialysis and go to work.” So, she quit her job to put her health first. It soon became apparent to Candace that very few jobs, if any, would be flexible and sympathetic towards her medical situation. The limited amount of money she now received through social security would have to cover rent, utilities, clothes, transportation, materials for school, and food for six growing kids.  

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is a federal program that provides food assistance to people with low incomes. Without SNAP, Candace, and other families just like hers, often must choose between paying rent or buying food. Her rent alone is approximately 91% of her income. “When we receive food stamps, we appreciate it. We don’t have to eat “struggle” meals. The number one thing we like to buy is fresh vegetables. And my kids love fruit,” Candace expressed.  

Hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans depend on SNAP to feed their families and achieve economic stability. However, this past summer, Department of Human Services (DHS) implemented a new computer system that has caused many SNAP recipients to be dropped from the program. “They got a new system, I don’t know what is going on with it, and I have been cut off from SNAP 3 times due to something the local office has done,” Candace explained. Her most recent drop from the program happened back in November when DHS failed to adequately notify her of a verification that she had to submit to avoid being terminated. She re-applied in December but had not heard from DHS in over a month despite federal regulation requiring DHS to process applications within 30 days of submission. While trying to get assistance, she was confronted with rude staff, long wait times on the Family Assistance Hotline, and misinformation. Candace notes that SNAP is “a good benefit when you do receive it, but it's hard going through the process of getting it.” 

While reading the news, Candace learned of a woman who was experiencing the same issues as her. That woman was able to get her SNAP case fixed after contacting the TJC. Candace immediately acted and contacted TJC. After learning about the countless issues Candace was experiencing, TJC reached out to DHS to request that Ms. Pegues’s benefits be deposited quickly. She was reinstated and her benefits were backdated to the original application date. When asked about what TJC’s help has meant to her, Candace states, “I was really appreciative that y’all helped me. I didn’t know what to do and I was about to give up.” 

While waiting for her case to be resolved, TJC connected Candace to a reporter from the TN Lookout. In a state that villainizes people for receiving public benefits, Candace had the courage to share her story. Ms. Pegues has witnessed dramatic changes in the economic landscape of Memphis such that the “...cost of living has increased but the pay has not changed" and that people “don’t get much help here.” Being able to use her voice on a news platform meant a lot to Candace. For her, it’s a no-brainer that equitable access to food should be on everybody’s mind. “If you eat better, you’re going to have better health.” 

Ms. Candace D. Pegues is a wonderful mother, sister, daughter, and friend, but she is also more than a caregiver. She is an inquisitive person who loves to read romance, sci-fi, horror, and historical books; an avid baker; and a student working towards a degree in business management and entrepreneurship at the University of Phoenix. She is a resilient and hard-working human being. Tennessee Justice Center is proud to honor Ms. Candace D. Pegues as a 2024 Mother of the Year for her relentless efforts to ensure healthy meals for her children and for using her voice to speak out for the benefit of all Tennesseans.  

Photography by Cindy McMillion

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