Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

Prince Frederick, MD- “The End Hunger Program is actually how I got to be here. I actually did IT and I was working in offices forever. That was kind of my main goal; it was kind of just to work my way up there, so we left the county. Me, my son, and my boyfriend moved to Cecil. Then I came home. I had an opiate issue…an addiction and I got to a breaking point. I just completely hit rock bottom and I was done with the lifestyle. I was done with all of it. My son was 2 1/2 and he was going to get to that age where he knew something wasn’t right, you know? I didn’t want that. I didn’t want that for any of us. So, me and him packed up and we moved back to Calvert.

It was just the two of us. I asked his dad to come with us, but he just wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t a matter of not loving him, but I had to love me and my son more. That’s when I had to make a huge choice and it sucked. It sucked, but I called home and my parents were there in hours. They didn’t know what was wrong, but they packed everything up and brought me home. The first 6 months were REALLY hard. I was having extreme anxiety attacks. I couldn’t leave the house without another person being with me. So, even going into the End Hunger program was very intimidating. I remember having anxiety attacks for the first week of classes because I was by myself. I didn’t have my safety blanket; somebody I knew…it was just me trying to figure out what to do; what I was doing…where I was going.

So, I graduated that. I interned, here. Trish came in and did the demos that they do for the End Hunger program and she was talking about the menus and how the kitchen has a lot of influence over that and I was like, “THAT’S what I want to do. THAT’S where I want to go.” I don’t want to work for corporate. I want to be able to make my own food because if you’re going to do it; do it, right?!

My love of food is what brought me to the whole thing, to begin with. My dad started me in the kitchen since I was like 6 and same with my son. He’ll get his first knife set for Christmas. I’ve been cooking as long as I can remember. I just never, ever considered making a career out of it. It’s not something I think I had the talent or skill for. I mean I was a “home cook”. After going to the End Hunger program I was like, “I can do this. I can absolutely do this.” So, that’s a funny story….. I and my best friend were at church and they were talking about the culinary End Hunger program and we thought it was part of the End Hunger Pantry…so we thought we were volunteering to help feed the homeless. Then we started researching it and found out what it really was, but I had already sent the email and started the communication and I was like ok…I guess we’re going through the interview process.

I had never even considered it, but once you hit rock bottom, you ask yourself what are doing? What are you going to do now? I have to make money. I have a child to support. I had to ask myself what I really wanted to do. I knew that my security clearance would be an issue and a whole other process, but I had to ask myself if I really wanted to go back to IT. I liked it. I enjoyed it. I mean, I love the paychecks. There just wasn’t love there, though. I mean, this is a COMPLETELY different craft. This is my passion. This is what I would do WAY before I got paid to do it. If any sporting events or any event; everyone comes to our house because I cook for a small army. I’ve been doing this for a long time, it’s just a different aspect of it now. Oh my God, I love it!! I can never imagine doing anything else!

So, I did my internship, here. I spent two weeks doing …fruit. hahaha! I wanted to bang my head against the wall; it was awful! haha So right after, she offered me the job. I guess it was a year or maybe two years into it when I started kind of training under the manager. I mean I knew what I wanted; I had my eye on the prize, so I followed her around in the kitchen and tried to be her right hand as much as I possibly could. She taught me more than any of the chefs that were here.

Next April will be 5 years. When I’m cleared headed and I know what I want; I go get it. I mean, nobody handed me the State Department either, but I just made really bad decisions and bad choices…..I don’t blame anyone because I was a full-grown adult, but when you’re surrounded by it…and it’s a party scene, it’s “just a party thing” and “it’s not a big deal”. All of us worked really hard. All of us were professionals. All of us partied really hard on the weekends.

Then, it was actually after I had my son. I was clean during breastfeeding, I had tried to pick up where we left off and had a few more parties. That’s where the addiction took over because you just can’t do that. That’s what kills a lot of people, now, because they come off of it and they’re clean and they think they can jump back into it and they overdose. It started as a party thing, but then it completely took over. Within a month, it was something that I needed to have every single day. It happens that fast. Something in there broke….I mean, I never had anxiety attacks before. Something definitely broke.

The process of checking myself in was REALLY REALLY hard. I have an amazing tribe. I have an amazing support system. That was one of the biggest parts of it because I didn’t go into any program or take any medication. I detoxed at my house for months. It was awful, but my parents were there, my brother was there, I had two best friends who were living in the same household that was helping me take care of my son so I could go through this process.

So, it was New Years Eve 2014 going into 2015, I went to the emergency room because I hadn’t slept in three days because the anxiety was so high it was literally just keeping me awake. I wasn’t sleeping. It was awful, so my mother sat with me and that’s where we were. They checked me in and gave me medicine. I started going to therapy because you have to deal with depression. You have to deal with the things that got you to that place. You can’t just say ok I don’t want to do this anymore. If you’re not dealing with the stuff that brought you to those choices, those choices are more than likely going to be repeated over and over again.

So, I checked into therapy. I started going to the group through Calvert and they gave you a urine analysis every week, so that’s where the accountability came in. I could have left at any point. It’s not like the court-ordered me or anything like that…it was just that I knew me and that I needed somebody to hold me accountable for it. I wasn’t sure I could do it myself. Obviously, I had an issue doing that prior.

My boyfriend and I were always in contact because we had a son. He wasn’t very active in his life because he was working and was on his own mess of a journey. So, nine months into it in August of 2015, I get a phone call from him and he wanted to come home, but not to work things out~he needed help getting himself together. He was checking himself into rehab. He had multiple driving violations, so he was looking at jail time. He had things he needed to do before he could try to move on with his life. Anything that was good for my son as a whole, I support.

So, I drove our son to see him while he was in rehab. We talked about it and we agreed that he wasn’t going to see him while he was incarcerated. It’s just not something he needed. He got out in November and he was going to move back into one of his sibling’s houses in Cecil, but that was too familiar. So, we sat down with my family and he stayed with us to do the same thing with me.

We’ve been back together for a couple of years, now. We’re at the eight-year mark at this point. He’s an awesome dad. He works his tail off for us. We’re hoping for another little one here, like super soon. When a couple goes through addiction together, it’s difficult and it’s rare for it to work because normally when you’re back together, the addiction can start over. We had to go on our separate journeys to make it work because if we tried to do it together, I think we would have had a higher relapse rate. Neither one of us have. I’m going on 5 years and he’s going on 4 years.

I would love to have my own food truck. The catering part is cool, but I would love my own truck with an ever-changing menu. I have so many ideas I want to do. This is a completely different shop and I get the freedom to make specials. We sit down together and make stuff up and roll with it. Had I ended up working anywhere else, I probably would have ended up back in an office. I get so much freedom here and I love it.

My advice for others would be to find an anchor. If you can’t change for you, change for the people who love you. Either you change or eventually, it will kill you. And that will be your legacy. Do whatever it takes to change your legacy.”

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...