I spent the last few days in Denver, visiting my friend Erika Napoletano and helping her celebrate her birthday. It was not at all the wild party weekend many would expect of us – in fact, we’re really two geeky girls who like to hang out and talk, read and get mani-pedis. Our girls’ weekend was wonderful – we shopped for things for ourselves that we didn’t need, we bought holiday presents for our family and friends and hung out with other friends – and we ate some pretty amazing meals.
Thanks to planes, trains and automobiles, I returned home today and began settling back in. I was unpacking, doing laundry and getting random hugs from 5 year olds, when I espied the Sunday paper on the dining room table. It was impossible to miss the cover story, emblazoned with the headline “Kids Going Without” and a picture of this darling little girl sitting at the dinner table, eating a plate of spaghetti noodles with canned white sauce and a slice of bread. I stopped what I was doing and sat down to read more.
Missouri ranks fifth in the number of homes in the nation with unstable food supplies, and Kansas is twelfth. My children – they never go hungry. As I read the article, the plight of the mom of that adorable little girl made my eyes well up with tears. She works three jobs to support her children who are 5, 7 and 12. She makes $23 per month too much to qualify for food stamps. They often don’t eat meat, because it’s too expensive, and many nights there’s not enough food left for her to fix a meal for herself, so she makes do by eating anything the kids leave behind on their plates. I imagine there are many nights she goes to bed hungry.
I grew up in a poor family. I watched my mother often forego dinner when there wasn’t quite enough food for all of us. And I remember the time we had to be on state assistance and feeling so ashamed by our poverty when I accompanied my mom to the store and she had to take out the food stamps in order to pay. She held her head high, and worked her ass off, and always managed to provide for us. And we weren’t any different than anyone else, but we were lucky. That was a brief period in our lives, a particularly difficult time, and my parents eventually worked their way through it. But I know it wasn’t easy.
And you wonder why I’m so ambitious? There you have it – part of my story. Growing up poor will put a fire in your belly and inspire you to work harder, learn more, settle less and yearn for financial stability if it wasn’t an inherent part of your childhood. But this isn’t about me. This is about children and families going hungry.
The mom in the story cried when she reflected on what she wanted life to be like one day. And said “I want to have pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans.” And that made me cry all over again, because any damn night that I want to, I can fix pork chops, or steak, or chicken, and mashed potatoes and green beans or corn and any other thing I even remotely desire. And the only thing that makes me any different than that mom is luck.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write to that reporter and do my damndest to persuade her to connect me with that mom and her family. And if she’ll do that, I’m going to go through my pantry and my freezer, and I’m going to make sure that one night – every single week, for the next few months, that that family is going to have meat. And vegetables. And that those kids aren’t going to have to have spaghetti and bread for dinner every night – at least if I can help it. And that that mom is going to have plenty of food so that she can eat, too.
And then I’m going to write a check to Harvester’s – the local food bank and contribute to their virtual food drive, which is really what the story was about. If you are in Kansas City and want to help, you can donate by going to FeedingKCKids. $5 buys a case of shelf stable milk and $10 buys macaroni and cheese. Or, if you’re feeling especially generous, you can pay for a child to receive a food filled backpack. And you can also help every time you’re at the local grocery store and you see the invitation in the checkout aisle to give an extra $5, $10 or $20 when you’re paying for your groceries. After all, is adding another $10 or $20 to your total grocery bill really going to kill you? Most of us spend that on lattes in a week.
If you’d like a different option, my friend Christopher Burgess is participating in the Feeding America virtual food drive and you can participate without even getting up from your chair. Every $5 you give provides 35 meals for hungry people and every dollar donated, up to $40,000 will be generously matched by Libby’s. Christopher alone has raised $2,500 so far in this virtual food drive, and is now marching on toward $3,000.
And if you don’t live in Kansas City, that’s okay. I can promise you there are plenty of hungry children in your city – you just have to open your eyes wide enough to find them. So please, the next time you’re fixing dinner or shopping at the grocery store, take a minute to reflect on how blessed you are – no matter what your personal financial situation is. Because, but for some strange stroke of luck, it might very well be you who’s struggling to find enough food to feed your kids, and not this woman who has crawled off the page of the Sunday paper and into my heart.
You don’t have to do much, but please, if you can, do something. Make that your gift to yourself this holiday season. Wouldn’t that be infinitely better than another scarf that you don’t need or a shiny new pair of boots? I know that for me, it will be.
I’ll say it again – it doesn’t matter what you do, or how little the gesture you make might be, but please do something. Children shouldn’t be hungry. No way, no how. Not as long as we can roll up our collective sleeves and help. Now I’m going to go hug my kids extra tightly and say a little prayer of extra thanks that allow us to be living the blessed life we live. And I’m going to make a difference.
Photo credit: Keith Myers, Kansas City Star