Many years ago, I learned what poverty and hunger were first hand. Struggling to pay a mortgage, utilities, student loans, car payments, gasoline, not to mention credit cards while raising four little kids was excruciatingly difficult.
We were in no way extravagant in our expenditures. Children’s clothes were hand me downs or purchased from second hand stores. We used cloth diapers, drank powdered milk, made our own bread, and bottled the fruit our neighbors and friends shared with us.
Despite that we were a happy family, but the stresses of not having enough to cover our most basic costs and the incessant calls from bill collectors took their toll. To make a little extra money, I sold homemade bread around the neighborhood. One time our car broke down and we made a deal with a neighbor who was a mechanic. He fixed our car and for payment I baked bread for his family. For his one hour of work we were charged $160.00 which translated into 80 loaves of bread and countless hours of time. I was also a childcare provider and taught preschool in my home. My husband taught school in the day, and night school at night and still we didn’t have enough. A friend of mine sewed a dress in exchange for a handmade doll that I made for her daughter. I loved that dress and wore it all of the time. The day it got caught on the lawn mower and ripped was one of many last straws. I sat down on the steps and cried knowing we didn’t have resources to replace it.
Money for groceries was the one budget category that had some flexibility. In other words what was left after all of the other expenses is what we had for food and we were lucky to always have food on our table. Breakfast was corn meal mush, oatmeal, or farina. Lunch was PB&J or mac and cheese, and dinner was some version of hamburger or tuna casserole with cream of mushroom soup, noodles, and either canned corn, or canned green beans (which was spread over two nights). It was a welcome relief when a friend of mine who’s husband grew up on a reservation taught me how to make beans and homemade tortillas. We always had homemade bread and jam for treats. Having said that, it wasn’t a given that food would always be available.
To this day it is easy for me to conjure up the memory of the fear I felt when food was getting low and there wasn’t any money to go to the store. On one such occasion, there was only enough money to put gas in the car so my husband could get to work. I was doing my best to make what little bit of food we had stretch, but the time came when the flour bin got dangerously low and I feared not being able to feed our kids. Miraculously that night a 10lb bag of flour was left on my porch. I have no idea how it got there. It’s amazing what a 10lb bag of flour can mean. Ghandi said “To a hungry man, a piece of bread is the face of God.” I know that to be true.
Another similar time when I was feeling that familiar fear, a neighbor showed up at my house with a bag of waffles she had made to store in her freezer for her children’s breakfast and a large ice-cream pail filled with her special hot chocolate mix she made from scratch. She said she had spent hours making it and her kids were so naughty she told them she was going to give it to the neighbors because they didn’t deserve it. So she marched over to my house and offered it to me. I was grateful beyond belief and our family was spared once again. On both occasions someone’s kindness saved us in ways they could never know.
So why is the issue of hunger so important to me? Because in a small way I know what it feels like to be afraid I won’t be able to feed my family. To be sure, I was never really in danger. We could have gone to extended family or our church for assistance and we never had to, but I remember well the fear of not being able to provide my families most basic needs. When I think of that terrible feeling and times it by 10 or more, I can’t bare it, and when I know that 1 in 8 people suffer from hunger in the world and 60 % of them are women it is intolerable to me. When I know that without proper nutrition in the first three years of a child’s life and that includes in utero, his or her brain will be permanently stunted, making it impossible for that child to reach it’s potential, I shutter; because there but for the grace of God go I.
Some people believe that hunger is too big a problem to solve, but the fact is, it isn’t. There is enough food on the planet to feed it’s entire population. Yes it’s complicated but there are experts who are dedicating their lives to eradicating hunger and they can do it, but not without help.
It is not enough for me to know the reality of what is going on, understand the suffering even if on a small scale, know that it can be fixed, and simply hope that it will be taken care of. It is not enough for me to pray for those who are suffering and for those who are on the frontline working to solve this problem, and hope for a miracle.
From my perspective as a mother, I remember the difference two acts of kindness made on my life. A bag of flour, some waffles and hot chocolate not only fed my family but gave me hope and an attitude of gratitude that carried me through hard times. I believe in small ways we can make a big difference. We don’t have to take on the whole world but if each one of us made an effort to do something, I believe it would reach the whole world.
That is why I care so much about hunger. That is why I initiated the Pioneers of Peace Thanks”Giving” Cup Campaign and why I am updating my knitting designs and selling them on Ravelry so that all of the proceeds can go to the World Food Program. So far both of my efforts have not made much of a difference and that is more than a little heartbreaking for me. I am torn between wanting to provide opportunities for people to help in this effort, and knowing I am the only one whom I have control over. I don’t have an answer but I know I have a responsibility to do something. Maybe a group of mothers need to get together and decide they are going to do something about making sure all children have food.
…and now I’m going to go make some beans and homemade tortillas
Sending warm thoughts your way,