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Hunger in the Heart

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I get all manner of calls as a marketing coordinator for the Food Bank. Primarily I field calls from businesses and organizations who are interested in staging a food drive in the region to help those in need. It’s a positive role I have — helping people to help other people. After three-plus years of working with various groups, the call a couple of weeks ago was quite different.

Michael began, “I have quite of bit of food to donate. Cans of food. Health foods. Some long-term meals ready to eat.”

Now, we do get these calls: someone is moving and they don’t want to take their food. They are cleaning out their cupboards to start fresh. They know their food will soon expire and want it to go to use. For these people, for various reasons, we ask them to pack up the food and drop it to one of the many places that partner with us for us to pick up on our scheduled routes. We are delighted they think of us and we certainly distribute all the food we get.

Still, this seemed different. Michael continued, “My son was a bit of a survivalist.”  We talked some more about this and that and I said I would get back to him.

I talked to my co-worker and then to my husband and I called back, made an arrangement to pick up the food in two days’ time using our SUV and my husband’s brawn. I felt we needed to reach out to this gentleman, not for his food, not to shore up our own resources, but because we are ultimately a part of the fabric of our region as a caring place.

Michael stood in the midst of chaos in the rented condo that son Chris had lived in for about five years. The small space was filled with boxes of clothes, food, cleaning supplies, cast-off golf clubs and art leaning against walls to be carted off, and soon. In fact, the realtor waited outside to show the place to a client wanting to move in ASAP.

Chris was a health nut. Exercise fiend. Employed, but working from home as a Computer Tech. He loved the mountains and the desert. Chris had political beliefs that caused him to collect food that would help him survive for long periods of time. No one knows yet why Chris died at 42. People saw him the day before and he seemed well and in good spirits. The coroner has the case, but that will take some time.

Now Chris’ Dad was trying to make sense of it all. “People will tell you that losing your child is the worst pain you can ever feel. I think they’re right. And for me, I don’t even know why he died and what I could have done to make it different.”

He talked. I listened We gathered the food. Discussed it all. We made decisions about what the food bank could use and what we had to leave. Then he opened the freezer and we found a large coffee can-like container. The outside indicated it was filled with seeds. Non-hybrid vegetable seeds. Chris never got to plant those. He never got to see them bloom.

canned seeds

It’s a small thing, I know, with all that this gentle man is going through — but perhaps it will help — I’ll send him a photo of the vegetables in the garden this summer so that he will know that Chris is feeding others and helping people who need food assistance right here in the place he loved so much.

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I’ve Gotta Make a Dress

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SewingDiaryBatch53_imageIt’s a constant refrain in my brain over and over this time of year – “I’ve Gotta Make a Dress.” Sometimes it’s a suppressed whisper, other times a downright command. I’ve Gotta Make a Dress!!
What’s really weird is that I don’t even sew, at least not since junior high school, and I probably never will learn that vaunted skill.
So, what is this dress business? Carol, a dear co-worker from a couple of jobs ago, taught me this idiosyncratic phrase. Her tale was thus:  she had a million and one things going on one holiday season when a sweet church lady called to tell Carol that in addition to the full-time job, full-time family and full-time Christmas load, Carol would need to make a dress for her daughter, Sarah, to wear in the church play. The Church Lady gave Carol time– a couple of weeks — but Carol kept putting that dress off. In her scurrying and hurrying Carol would remember, “I have to make a dress.” Until the thought was waking her up at night, “I have to make a dress, CRAP!”
In her fun and goofy way, Carol taught me this coping mechanism, this mantra that means in essence, I’ve got a lot to get done in a short amount of time. When stress hit work, she had all of us saying, “I gotta make a dress.”
For a Food Bank marketing person this is truly the time of year when your head is spinning and you run from one event to another, fielding requests, talking to people who want to engage in what you do. It’s also the time of year that your family has more events, more commitments, more church, more life.
I relish this time, I really do! My phone rings near constantly at work; I stick a barrel in my car two or three times a week or wheedle a co-worker to make a delivery to some excited giver. I feel popular! I know I’m part of a customer service team bringing in the much-needed food to feed up to 97,000 people in our service area a month. With about 250 food drives going simultaneously, it’s no wonder that just short of Christmas I dream not of snow falling but of food bank barrels – I’m holding up walls of them, they’re flying overhead, my family can’t move because the house is filled with them.

That's life - a work in progress.

That’s life – a work in progress.

It’s my fourth Food Drive Season and each year I learn more, do more, talk more, drive more and sometimes, sew more. The difference this year is some temporary help has come our way to make it so I can help market more. What use is a barrel sitting in some corner with no food in it? Let’s get the word out, tell the world FOOD DRIVE SEASON!
Just because it’s our food bank’s busy time, doesn’t mean the personal commitments of the Christmas season and let’s be honest, everyday life will cease. We’ve got meals and desserts to make and share; laundry to do; ugly sweater parties to grace with just the right ensemble; Advent skits to learn; lessons to plan; crafts to make; rehearsals and concerts to attend; people shuttle to and fro; a house to decorate; presents to find and wrap and give; secrets to keep; house to clean; letters to write and meetings (all kinds) to attend. Thank the Lord for a husband and partner who picks up my utter slack, or Christmas at our home would be a pathetic mess.

Always good advice.

Always good advice.

Then there’s the second job I have that has a deadline each December 31 that brings more flurry to my mailbox and to my door. That brings scores more people to interact with, emails to write, explanations to be made and more tasks for me to remember.
This all to explain the dress is not quite made and my blog has quite sad, too, having had no attention from me for the past month or two.
I’m not complaining or ranting or moaning, you see. No, no, not me! I just can hardly wait to see how pretty that dress will be.

Hunger Ends Here

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Hunger Ends.

My Gosh. What if that were the headline tomorrow? What if you picked up the newspaper and instead of the bad news you generally brace yourself for, you found out we achieved something of value and that we did it together?

September is Hunger Action Month. It’s a nationally recognized time when we shine the spotlight on those who are struggling to put food on their tables. While frequently we think of people in need of food as those who are homeless (and yes! they obviously need food, too) but people who have an apartment, a mobile home or a rental home are also hungry. They skip meals in order to afford housing, healthcare, car insurance, shoes for their kids.

Full disclosure – I work at a Food Bank and my co-workers and I see so much hardship. We recently served a grandmother who has taken on the care of three grandchildren while her son undergoes cancer treatment. With frequency we serve women who have finally moved out of an abusive situation and need food for their kids while they go get their GED. We see people who work a couple of jobs, but have no benefits that include health coverage, so they pay all that out-of-pocket. Last year a middle school client told us that both his parents were laid off the same week. An earlier blog post of mine “Hunger is Not a Game” chronicles one encounter with a young boy carrying the weight of his family’s needs.

Solutions? Yes! We have masses of extra food in our country. Haven’t we all thrown out food and thought, someone should do something about this?

Through the generosity of grocery partners, our Food Bank receives food that is nearly at its sell-by date and we turn it around within 24 hours to our partners to distribute to seniors, children, families, workers. Farmers, ranchers, and neighborhood community gardens give us food for clients so they have fresh, nutritious food to eat. Food drives sponsored by companies, churches, community organizations help round out a lot of need. Quite honestly, we partner with the state welfare division to help the effort to sign up people for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) so that clients have a reliable source to purchase food while their lives are in turmoil. The people our staff assists have heartbreaking stories. They’ve run out of options. They set aside their pride and apply so they can feed themselves and their families.

My friends who volunteer and work at the Food Bank describe their passion in this video.

Just interviewing them gave me the lump in my throat. It’s great to know people who truly care about others.

The theme for 2012 is Speak Out Against Hunger. I encourage you to get involved. Speak up. Volunteer. So much of our lives are spent on the surface. Go deep. This is one cause that has solutions.

Hunger is Not a Game

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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.

Children care about hunger issues

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?”

“Yes.”

“No food at home?”

No.”

“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.

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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.