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Second Harvest Community Food Bank Blog

Being Poor Isn't a Character Flaw

Boy with a Lunch Bag

It was 7:32am on the first day of the Food Stamp (SNAP) Challenge and my office phone rang.

“Are you kidding me, I am a disabled veteran that served in the military for eight years. I cannot work and my Food Stamp benefits are $16 PER MONTH”.

I am aware that one of the few flaws with SNAP is how it hits people on Social Security. I understand why disability and Social Security benefits are charged against SNAP benefits. I understand how the math worked against the man on the other side of this phone call.

“I have an honorable discharge that means nothing to most people. I want a better life, a life to be proud of and I am not asking for anything more than a chance for that – not a handout. I’ve never asked for a handout in my life, but now I have to live on one”.

Yesterday I spoke in front of a service group in a rural community within our service territory. I spoke about the things that need to happen in a community to reduce and ultimately end the challenge of hunger. I opened the floor to questions and immediately the tirade began from a man in the audience. It was actually hard for me to keep up with the brutal attack on those we serve here at Second Harvest.  I recall the words “those people” being used over and over to describe those in need of emergency food assistance. I wondered who “those people” where so I asked.

He answered, “Well, you know - the poor”.

So here we are, not just as a group gathered for lunch but as a nation. We need to attach blame for the uncertainty and fear we feel. Of course we have reason to be concerned. Our military is engaged around the world, we wince in fear when a “package” is found in a public place without an owner, we wonder if the milk we drink is tainted with invisible radioactivity and we are concerned that the national debt will finally cause our great nation to slide into the abyss. As Americans we are shaken. We don’t like feeling this way and we don’t like “those people” responsible.

In a global sense “those people” are the people that attacked our nation in New York and Washington DC nearly a decade ago. They are the engineers that failed to design a nuclear reactor to withstand a major earthquake and tsunami. They are Wall Street, bankers, business executives, Democrats, Republicans, people that look different, speak a different language and apparently those in the midst of a global recession that cannot find work or cannot earn a living wage.

Really?

According to Feeding America the state of Missouri is fifth in the nation in childhood food insecurity.

Second Harvest Community Food Bank (SHCFB) provides emergency food assistance to 3,270 children per week (1,853 are ages 0-5).

Are children “those people”?

Nearly 60% of client households served by SHCFB have at least one employed member who is working, paying taxes, contributing the best they can towards a better community.

Are employees “those people”?

Nearly half of SHCFB clients have reported choosing between paying utilities or food and 25% have had to decide between the mortgage/rent and food. Additionally, 35% have had to choose between food and medicine and/or health care.

How close have you been to being one of “those people”?

Although many of us are struggling financially and are frightened about the challenges of our time, we cannot forget what these challenges are doing to all of our neighbors. As Americans we enjoy boasting about our exceptionalism, and unique way of life; often, it’s the working poor that quietly, and unseen, support the greatness of our nation.

Folks, we are all in this together. We cannot allow difficult times to destroy our “moral imagination” to see, feel and understand the challenges and desire to live better lives as experienced by the most vulnerable among us. 

With more and more clients needing assistance our Harvest House pantry and Partner Agencies continue to struggle with the increasing number of people in need. To keep up with these challenges we are impressing upon the community that in good times and bad, hunger is simply unacceptable.

Let me say it again. Hunger is unacceptable.

Why such a bold statement? Take a moment to think about societal norms that we deem as unacceptable – assault, slavery, drunk driving and child abuse, to name a few. Hunger, the inability to access food in socially acceptable ways to survive and thrive, should be in that category.

I have learned a great deal about the people our food bank serves during the first week of my Food Stamp Challenge. They are amazing human beings. They are beautiful, imaginative children. They are Veterans of our nation’s conflicts, parents, grandparents. They are wonderful people of great character. They are my friends.

And they are hungry – and Hunger is unacceptable.

Posted by David Davenport, Second Harvest Community Food Bank Executive Director - Tuesday, 04/05/11, 02:36 PM - Comments - Category: Hunger Policy

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