Day one of the Beyond this Hunger has been eye-opening. Yes, I was hungry. However, what impacted me more was the feeling of loneliness and isolation.
I cooked dinner for my children but could not sit down and eat with them. I was on the outside looking in while they ate. I was different. I wasn’t a part of the group.
I am a teacher. As I scooped mac ‘n cheese and fruit onto my children’s plates last night, I drooled a little (lol) and then silently wondered how many times a student has come to school feeling hungry. I wondered if they too felt left out because they simply couldn’t afford to buy an ice cream or share their well packed snack with a friend. Breaking bread at a family meal or with friends at school doesn’t just feed our physical bodies. It nourishes our souls to dine with those we care about and love. When you’re too poor to eat with others, you feel left out and sad.
I personally have experienced the isolation of poverty. It makes you feel different than everyone else. I couldn’t just decide to go to the grocery store to feed my family like my neighbors could across the street. I had to plan family meals VERY carefully and track every penny I spent to make it to the next Friday (payday). I used to stretch expensive items- like a pack of chicken- to last for three or four meals instead of just one. Fresh fruit… fresh ANYTHING… was a luxury.
When I did go to buy food at the store, I used to die a little inside when the person in line ahead of me spent $8-$9 on something like name brand laundry detergent. I would have spent $1 on detergent at the Dollar Store and then fed my children for a few DAYS on the $8 left. I used to think, “What’s it like to go through the checkout and not even think about the money being spent?” Or, “What’s it like to have meat at every meal?” Again, poverty is isolating. It just makes you feel different… because you ARE different.
There were a few times when my family was entirely dependent upon others to eat. I had to plan my week and activities very carefully so I could be sure to make it to the local food pantry when it was open. Again, I couldn’t just decide to get groceries. I was told when to go because of the pantry’s limited hours. When I got to the pantry, I usually had zero say in what is given to me. DO NOT GET ME WRONG. I am grateful for every bit of help that I have ever been given in tough times. However, there is something truly humbling about not being able to choose. Poverty strips you of choice and dignity.
So, as I watched my children eat last night, all those feelings I had from tougher times came flooding back. Isolation. Humiliation. Loneliness.
The Beyond This Hunger campaign isn’t just about going hungry. It is about trying to empathize with those who suffer. I remember your pain: your physical hunger pains and your emotional pain.