Connecting the dots.
Drawing the lines between what I read, what I believe, what I’ve learned and what I do. That’s been part of the fun and challenge of my reading goal for this year.
What I do is work for a food bank. I believe that no person should go hungry. I’ve learned that hunger is in unexpected places.
- 1 in 4 children in Nevada do not know where their next meal is coming from
- The Food Bank helps more than 97,000 people per month
- The Food Bank serves the hungry through 130+ partner agencies
- The Food Bank and partners offer free meals to 28 sites in Washoe County during summer
- The Food Bank of Northern Nevada distributed 10.5 million pounds of food last year.
But SOMETIMES statistics can’t tell the whole story of hunger.
A recent invitation to stage a food drive at a Sparks, NV elementary school during a special spring event revealed so much more.
This school is “over” standards that would make children eligible for government programs to address hunger and yet, and yet…as the young students and families brought contributions to the food drive, stories emerged.
“I was wondering about the food bank truck I see at Sparks Christian Fellowship,” asked a dad who had just donated a large bag of food to the barrel.
“Oh, it’s a pantry site and they sure could use some volunteers,” replied the Food Bank employee on site. But that’s wasn’t his question. He went on to explain that he and his family belong to a group of seasonally employed — those in the construction trades who don’t always have work in the winter months and need help with food. Because of the food drive, he now has some additional information on how to access food when his family needs it.
A sweet, blonde second-grade boy cruised by a couple times with his book bag slung over his shoulder, blue eyes seeking out a friend or two.
Later, a middle-aged woman with two children at the school donated another large bag of food and our employee thanks her for her donation, “You are welcome, she said, “I always give when I see a barrel. You see, I’ve stood in line for food from you. I know what it feels like and I want to give back. I’m all right now.”
This was turning into a very surprising food drive.
The night was pleasant as children dashed back and forth to classrooms playing games and earning raffle tickets for good reading habits. Among them was the second-grade boy, who shied away from the wave from our employee.
Whereupon a mother passed and commented, Food Bank, ahhh, I’ve always wondered — how can I volunteer?”
“How nice!” our Food Bank representative said, noting that she spoke with a Spanish accent. “We can certainly use bilingual help, if that would fit with you. We can use help with our Mobile Pantry program.” The outgoing mom took with her information on places she can help out with her skills.
Gosh, who knew that we would be collecting more than food? Always great to garner a volunteer.
Soon the children gathered in the multipurpose room for lemonade and books and a chance at the raffle, but our employee stayed outside with the food barrel, just in case.
The nicely dressed blonde boy — sporting a yellow lei that the school provided for the tropical theme — overcame his shyness momentarily and asked, “How much does this food cost?”
“Oh, sweetie, I”m not selling it. I’m collecting food.”
“But how much does it cost?” he persisted.
“If you don’t have any food to give tonight, that’s OK. There’ll be other times — other food drives,” our employee explained.
“But,” he said, gesturing to a pocket.
“No, no. I’m not selling the food. We give it away to people who are hungry.”
One look from him revealed the truth.
“Are you hungry right now buddy?”
“No food at home?”
“Well, let’s get you some food right now,” she said in a quiet voice.” “I see you’ve got a bag with you now, can we slip some in there?”
Blondie’s head bobbed up and down, a smile creeping to his lips. “But I got a baby sister, and a mom…”
“Well, let’s pick out some food for them too — want to?”
Increased nodding of head. He stood on tip-toe looking into the Food Bank barrel. He picked out some turkey chili beans for himself, some soup for his mom. “But my sister, she’s just 18-months old. She can’t eat just anything,” came his words, almost in panic.
“OK, you and I are going to dig in here until we find something.”
At last they found some apple sauce, and he slipped this last can into his bag. “Oh, my mom is going to be SO happy!” he said.
The tears that had been gathering in my eyes began to leak out; I didn’t want him to see.
“You are a good boy,” I said. “And a good big brother.”
Off he scampered, eager to walk home and share this food.
He is the one in four who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from — but he’s plainly not a statistic. He’s a little boy. A neighbor. A student. A friend. A Nevadan. A person.
This school now has information on our summer food program where children aged 1 to 18 can access food in area parks. It is a middle class school, but you see, pockets of hunger are everywhere, and the faces of hunger can surprise and enlighten. Even us.
This, ladies and gentlemen, was a heart-wrenching experience for me. I carry that little boy with me every day to the food bank and from the food bank. He reminds me that I can make a difference and that I am making a difference.
Chances are, wherever you live, there is a Food Bank. If you can, volunteer, or give a can of food to help.
As for reading, I do recommend “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by Ehrenreich, Barbara.