Keep the faith.
Keep the faith.
“My name is Alice and I’ll be your server.”
We exchanged glances, amused by the ancient woman who would be waiting on us this lunch. I know we each surreptitiously checked her out. She stood no taller than 4’8”. Her face was deeply wrinkled, Sharpei’s have fewer wrinkles, I thought. Her grey hair was pulled into a bun that had once been neat and now showed signs of a long day. Giving her our drink orders, we turned our attention to the massive menu.
Alice returned in a few moments our drinks in hand, barely able to withstand the weight of the soda and coffee. Shaking, she placed the cups onto the table. Relieved to have succeeded at that task, she pulled out her order pad and a pen, ready for our orders. We each spoke loudly, not wanting to cause her any issues. Task completed, she shuffled off to place our order.
We spoke about her quietly. “How old do you think she is?” “At least eighty.” “I truly hope she’s working because she wants to, not because she has to.”
When our orders arrived, she carried them over on trembling hands, my soup spilling as much on the table as there was in the bowl. My companion needed ketchup, but decided he didn’t want to make her schlep back and forth to bring it to the table. Alice beamed at us, checking to make sure all was okay. We watched her shuffle off to her next table, amazed at her calmness.
As we finished, Alice returned, check in hand. Placing it on the table, she wished us a happy holiday and showed us the turkey picture she drew for us. It was a beautiful turkey on a platter, complete with rising steam.
Leaving a generous tip, we left the diner, but she stayed with me. Please let her be working because she wants to, not because she has to.
There’s something heartbreaking about our elderly poor. Those who worked hard all their lives, only to have their life savings flushed down the toilets of bad investments, pensions reduced or gone thanks to corporate bullshit, or just a lack of savings. Medical costs not covered by Medicare spiral upwards, as the donut hole sucks at their social security payments. Taxes, utilities, and food costs go up, as the ability to shop around for better prices becomes more challenging.
But they exist. In growing numbers. Thanks to programs like Meals on Wheels, they are not as visible as the children living in poverty. Thanks to the recent economic turndowns, retirement funds are generating significantly less, requiring real changes in lifestyles. Some, like Alice, have to keep working. These men and women have done nothing wrong but age. For those who planned for their retirement, unexpected expenses may have happened. Others may have invested poorly. Others just barely made ends meet before they were laid off. Now, at an age when they should be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor, they worry and stress about food and housing costs.
Hunger affects people from all walks of life, at all ages. You can do something to help change it. Raise your voice, open your wallet, and work towards helping those in need.
By: Lauren J. Walter November 13, 2008
This blog is part of BAH – Bloggers Against Hunger. Please check out some of the other pieces and make an effort to do something to help.
www.blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=286466630&blogID=448493523 – What Are You Going to Do to Help
www.blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=367628121&blogID=448473438 – Please Don’t Look Away
www.blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=52886015&blogID=448438545&Mytoken=675B724A-7458-4CE1-B1CAA4543C2F80A922657410 – Blogging Against Hunger in America
www.ramblingmisha. blogspot. com/2008/11/blogging-against-hunger. html – Blogging Against Hunger
Norman Borlaug and the Fight to End World Hunger
http://ljwwrites.wordpress.com – Children of the Soup Kitchen
When I walked into the soup kitchen, my attention was caught by the kids. Little kids – infants in car seats, toddlers leaning against their moms, grade school kids staring at their trays. It breaks my heart. These kids have done nothing wrong, yet their start is already ten steps behind so many. They are the innocents caught in the trap of poverty. These are the kids who will perpetuate the cycle of poverty unless something changes.
Too often, kids echo what they see and hear. A parent struggling to survive, looking to find a warm place for her family to sleep and scrounging for food to fill their bellies often lacks the time and energy to help that child learn. So not only is the child cold and hungry, that child is also failing to get the basics. Mom doesn’t teach her the abcs. Dad doesn’t work on colors and shapes with him. When do they catch up? How do they catch up?
Poverty is a horrible trap. A self-perpetuating cycle that can be broken only through education and major change. According to studies, 13 million American children, 18% our children are being raised in families earning less than the federal poverty level ($21,200 per year). http://www.nccp.org/ The children trapped in this cycle did not choose to be born into poverty. Hell, given their druthers, they’d be children of rich parents. But we don’t get to make that choice, and our initial beginnings are as much a factor of randomness as anything else.
A child who spends his or her early years dining in a soup kitchen has a dramatically different worldview than a child who never has to worry about getting fed. The safety, comfort and attention levels are very different.
Soup kitchens can only provide so much – a hot meal, another meal of peanut butter and jelly or some other shelf stable food to take with. Perhaps there is access to social workers and other tools that may help move a person forward. But it doesn’t give a small child an even playing field with children who live in relatively stable homes with relatively stable families. The socialization of these poor children is dramatically different than those in more affluent families. Growing up in a car or a shelter is not on par with growing up in a home and going for playdates at the neighbors.
As our economy spirals downward, I wonder how many more children will be eating in the soup kitchen. How many young kids will find nourishment at the generosity of strangers? The long terms effects are staggering. The levels of impoverished children has grown steadily over the last seven years. That places a burden on the schools they attend to provide remedial and basic classes to help bring them up to speed; higher numbers of kids needing free lunch. Health care costs for a malnourished child or child raised on cheap fast food soar. Maybe they’ll catch up. More likely not. And then what?
Many of us take extra time and money to help out the poor at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We bring our sacks of toys and canned goods to local shelters and offer our time. That is a wonderful thing. But is it enough?
The gaps between rich children and poor children exist. How do we change them? How do we create a society where every child has a chance? I have no answers, only questions. I do believe that we can find ways to defeat poverty and the effect it has on children, but only by actually paying attention (and money) to work on the issue. Poverty is usually hidden from view, in ghettos and barrios far out of view from the rich. It needs to be brought to the forefront and discussed openly and loudly.
BAH – Bloggers Against Hunger is one way to do that. It’s not too late to get involved. BAH blogs can be posted through Friday, and on Monday, I will post a complete list of all those who got involved. Write, read, comment. Your voice could be the answer. Please link your Hunger Related blog here or send me a message letting me know where to find it.
By: Lauren J. Walter November 12, 2008
It’s time to talk hunger again. Back in June, we had an awesome first go of BAH – Bloggers Against Hunger. Thank you again to all the fabulous bloggers who participated. A list of the links to all 17 blogs can be found here:
The idea behind BAH is to call attention to the problems of Hunger and Homelessness here in America. Unfortunately, neither issue will be going away any time soon, so we, as human beings need to look for ways to create change and help. Blogging on the issues is a way to reach out to a bigger audience and maybe prod some folks into doing some good.
I’m looking to do another round of blogs over a three day period, Wednesday November 12 through Friday, November 14, 2008. Bloggers will have the option of posting a relevant blog any of those days or each of those days, whichever they prefer.
I think it would be great to have some kind of theme for this go round. Something broad enough to encompass lots of thoughts, ideas and creativity. Some of the thoughts I had for themes are:
There’s Got to Be A Better Way
How Can This Be Allowed?
Change is Good
Food, Shelter & Comfort
It’s Just Not Enough
Needless to say, I’m open to suggestions and thoughts, so please, list your ideas in the comments here.
Last round, I used MySpace as the primary blogging site, but there is also a Facebook Group, and my blog here at WordPress. I welcome all participation, as the idea is to get the word out and to get people excited to do some good, using the blogosphere as a starting point. I really would like to find a way to expand the reach of the group, and once again, I turn to you for ideas.
If you would like to get involved in the next round, please let me know and I can link you up!
Today is the first BAH – Blogathon – Bloggers Against Hunger. It’s an effort to raise awareness about hunger in America. This blog is not fiction. I wish it was.
Volunteering at a soup kitchen is an experience – a heart-breaking, thought-provoking, heart-warming experience. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer serving several lunches at a soup kitchen on Long Island, New York. What’s it like? Well, I’ll try and share that with you now.
The doors to the kitchen open at 11:00 a.m. Before that time, people queue up outside, sometimes quietly, sometimes not so quietly, usually without any major problems. As I walk by the queue into the warmth of the kitchen, I look at the people standing in line, waiting in the cold for a warm meal and a place to thaw out. Many carry their prized possessions; shopping bags piled high with god only knows what. When the doors finally open, they are directed inside, first to a table to secure their spot, then to the food line. The volunteers greet them with big smiles and welcoming words. Depending on the day, the food options vary. Sandwiches, soup, hot entrees, salad, bread, fruit, whatever can be put out is. The guests fill their plates, one to a customer, but they know as long as the food holds, they can get seconds.
They return to their seats, and a few words are spoken – a non-denominational prayer of thanks, announcements made about availability of social workers, housing, job opportunities, language classes, the week’s schedule for the kitchen. The guests begin eating, and for a moment, I see contentment. Here, they are safe, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Glancing around the room I take note of the guests. The ages range from newborn to senior citizen. The ethnic mix is similarly disparate – Hispanic, African American, Caucasian. Some are known to have psychological issues and are seated accordingly. All sit side by side as they eat their lunch. There is a buzz in the room as conversations are held and information conveyed. The guests maintain a cautious air about them, as if afraid to fully let down their guard. I watch as the young mothers feed their small children and wonder what life will be like for those little ones. The time goes quickly, and the guests begin to funnel out, many reaching for the bag that contains their dinner – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a piece of fruit.
As they leave the kitchen, I wonder where they go. To an apartment filled with a dozen other men, all sharing one room? To a car, where they spend the night huddled against the cold? To a shelter, where they are safe, but transient? What about the children? How do they do their homework or attend school with all the uncertainty of their lives? For those with mental illnesses or other physical ailments, how do they obtain their medications and take it on a regular basis?
I’ve spoken to some of the guests, trying to learn their stories, and each one tears another piece out of my heart. The woman whose mental illness caused her to lose her job, her husband, her home and her children. The man who lost his job and ran out of unemployment benefits and is just barely hanging on to his apartment. The Hispanic man who tells me through a translator about coming to America in hopes of a better life, and living next to a dumpster until he found a mattress in an apartment with 12 other men. The woman with three children whose latest man was arrested, leaving her homeless. Not all of the guests have hard luck stories, some are stories of stupidity, of foolishness and of criminal acts. But all the stories share the same result and one of the key factors for all of them is the lack of a safety net.
I spoke with a woman whose two young children played quietly next to us. My pocketbook sat on the table, next to where I stood. Easily within both watch and reach. I left it there intentionally, trying to combat my own fears. Trying to trust in the goodness of this place. The woman I was speaking with pokes me, “Is that your bag?” I nod yes. She says, “Hold on to it, you can’t trust these people.”
I spend a lot of time wondering about these people. About how to change things so that homelessness and hunger can one day be eradicated. The problems run deep. There are no easy answers, no quick fix solution. Money needs to be invested into our poor. Money to teach them basic life skills. Better help networks need to be set up and made accessible. More lower income housing and better social services for those in the neighborhoods. Education for parents and kids. Bilingual education for adults. Reasonably priced quality child care. Better public transportation. Health care that won’t force sick individuals into bankruptcy and homelessness.
When I get discouraged over this growing problem, I remember the amazing thing about all of this. You can make a difference. You can change someone’s life. You can help make this a better country. All it takes is a phone call and a couple of hours of your life. Call a food bank in your county and make a commitment to volunteer one afternoon a month. Hold a food drive for a local food bank. Call and volunteer to tutor some kids or adults. Call your legislators and demand that America invest in its poor. Look at what you have to offer and see if you can find a good fit. It doesn’t have to be a weekly commitment – whatever you can give helps. The more the merrier.
Together we can all make a difference.
Here are some links to organizations that may be a good starting point for you:
This is my first blog for the BAH – Bloggers Against Hunger Project. Please join the group – we’ll be blogging again in the fall, trying to call attention to hunger here in America. I’ll be posting links to all the blogs later today, so take some time and read how other folks address the issue.
Here are the blogs posted so far – please check them out!
You still have time to post yours – just let me know so I can put a link up for you!
By: Lauren J. Walter 6/18/08
This is not a fiction blog. I wish it were.
In 2006, 17% of children in America lived below the poverty line. 7% of children under the age of 18 live in extreme poverty, families with income of under $10,000 per year. 42% of those children living in single mother households are under the poverty level. http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/indicators/4Poverty.cfm
Children growing up in poverty start off behind the eight ball in so many different ways. These children tend to have poor health and trends toward chronic health issues, and trend toward higher risk behaviors such as smoking, drugs and sexual activity at a younger age. Their cognitive skills and academic ability are not up to the standards of those from higher income families.
I can almost understand how people have issues with hungry adults – all the ‘get a job’ things that relate to that (despite the fact that an adult earning minimum wage and paying taxes falls below the poverty line) and poor families having more children than they can afford.
But here’s the thing. We’re talking about kids here. Children. Little ones who had no say into which family they happened to be born to. Kids who deserve the same opportunities and education and health as those born into families with money. These kids didn’t ask to be born. These infants didn’t say, ‘hey, whoever is assigning families today, please place me in the suckiest possible situation. I want to struggle.”
Yes, here in America, there are ‘support’ systems in place. WIC, welfare and the like. But you know as well as I do, that too many people fall through the cracks. And those kids have no say over how the money is spent. Kids are hurting.
Don’t you think it would help if the celebrity culture would take the time to donate and call attention to the starving kids in their own backyard? Until they do, we need to take up the slack. Let’s face it, children shouldn’t be allowed to starve here in America.
I invite you all to join BAH – Bloggers Against Hunger. As of now, on one specified day in June (specific date to be determined), all members of BAH will be blogging on the issue of Hunger in America. They can blog an educational blog, personal stories, fiction, or whatever means they feel best calls attention to all those in America who are forced to use soup kitchens, food pantries or to go hungry.
Please join in and spread the word. Together, we can make a difference. I have a groups set up at both MySpace and Facebook, and will be happy to provide the link to those who want to get involved. Please leave a comment if you want more information!
By: Lauren J. Walter 3/6/08