Hungry for the Holidays

I know, I know; if you drive around, you’ll still see pumpkins sitting out on porches and in yards. But let’s face it – Halloween has come and gone, and the holidays are gearing up. Thanksgiving is almost here, and we all know the centerpiece of Turkey Day is the dinner spread. That is, if you’re not in the unfortunate segment of the population struggling to feed their families on a daily basis. Then Thanksgiving becomes a painful, unavoidable reflection of a plight affecting too many across the most powerful country in the world.

We’ve all seen the commercials featuring the swollen bellies of children in Africa, and their plight is worthy of our sympathy, but there are young children right here in the Jacksonville area not eating regular, nutritious meals who could use the help of their neighbors and communities. Hungry children is a serious global problem, but I think it’s time we put a real face on those in need locally.

Per the Feeding America website, the Hunger in America 2014 study revealed that each year, the Feeding America network of food banks provides service to 12 million children.

Hungry children are not just the victims of mismanaged link cards. Adults sometime don’t make food shopping a priority, or allow their addiction to cigarettes to supersede their family’s meal plan. But I’m talking about the working poor; hard-working people who fight and claw week in and week out to pay rent, keep the lights on, and feed themselves. People that have to budget every dollar to make ends meet, hoping unexpected expenses like a medical bill or a car repair doesn’t blow up their monthly plan. But accidents happen. Tires go flat. Kids get sick. And often it’s the grocery shopping part of the budget that gets cut. And that’s not good for youngster’s stomachs.

Take a moment and think – when was the last time you were really, really hungry, had ZERO food in the house, and was too broke to go grab fast food? Many have a credit card to bail them out when things get tight. In the summer of 1986, I had just moved out to Los Angeles and was working at the Pasadena YMCA. I was three days away from a paycheck and I remember using the ends of a loaf of bread to make a ketchup and margarine sandwich using fast food condiment packets. I didn’t have anything else to eat over that stretch, and I’ll never forget that feeling of not being able to answer the growl of my stomach. I was very fortunate it was just over that relatively short period of time and did not become a regular occurrence. And I had only myself to feed, not a family. I was a grown man, not a child, who was working a low paying, 7 day a week job. So, it might have been a long time ago, but some memories last a lifetime.

Most of us have food in our pantries and kitchen cabinets we’ll never eat. Most of us go grocery shopping long before the shelves are empty. Many of us balance our food budgets between shopping, restaurants, and drive thrus. So many Americans eat what they want, when they want, and quite regularly. Thanksgiving is coming, and many are looking forward to the spread of the year, eating until they flop on the couch and fall into a semi-coma. But quietly, there are families with small children who will not be enjoying turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, fresh baked rolls, pumpkin pie, and all the other side dishes and variations of the Thanksgiving Day feast. Some will be thankful for a $5 pizza. Some will make do with Hamburger Helper. And then there will be those who will not eat much at all, many of which will be young children. Kids don’t always understand why they’re hungry all the time, but they’re way too familiar with having empty bellies. And most of us are blissfully unaware of their plight. There are no commercials attempting to pluck at our heart strings or guilt us into making a donation for the hungry in Jacksonville and West Central Illinois. But hunger, like air, is all around us.

Invisible but substantial. And for young children, heartbreaking.

So, what are we going to do about it?

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