Nearly 40% of people who qualify for food assistance do not apply for it because they are ashamed. Hunger is truly the invisible epidemic.
We saw this recently as the viral video of the 9 year old girl living in the Jersey shore area broke down crying uncontrollably and said she was starving. Her mother lost her job and didn’t sign up for any services. We saw this locally when a little boy came to us and said, “I want food, but my dad says we don’t need it. But there isn’t any food in our house.”
Asking for food…waiting in a line for food – it is one of the most humiliating things to have to do. And can you imagine having to search for food constantly? Can you imagine being forced to go from pantry to pantry to church to church to try to find enough food each week to feed your kids? Have you ever considered that the box of food you receive might not contain things you can create a meal out of or that you have borrowed a car for the day so you need to try to get as much food as you can to last for longer than a few days?
We work hard to keep shame out of getting food. We don’t make people jump through hoops to get food from us by making them bring proof of income, proof of utility bills, proof of anything. We take minimal information that we are required to collect. Even through our drive through distributions, we try to give people some choices – don’t like chicken, we’ll give you beef. Your family is vegetarian, we have plant based protein and fish. Kids love apples, but not oranges, we will give you extra apples and ask if you want a few oranges to try to get them to try them. Never had a spaghetti squash? We’ll provide instructions on how to fix it and a simple recipe.
Once a month, we have our regular distributions AND a mobile food giveaway. We encourage EVERYONE to attend both – we don’t believe there is anything wrong with what many like to call double dipping. My cupboards are full and I want their cupboards to be full too. I don’t want people to have to “ration” food. I want the kids to open the refrigerator and cupboards and have plenty of food and have choices. If you tell any of us that you don’t have enough food when you come through our line, we are going to get you more. I know you might have gas for your car this week or you may have been able to borrow a car to get food this week and won’t have access next week. You need to gather as much as you can to make it through.
Please, let’s stop this place of shame and judgment. Let’s lead with dignity and kindness always.