Over the past several months I have been trying to put a face on the hungry folks here and around the country. At Easter dinner while sitting next to my friend Maen in his beautiful home and across from his friend Bob, a retired corporate pilot, it came to me. But only after Bob told a few exciting stories about flying his jet through thunder storms over the Amazon jungle on the way to Brazil.
As a normal conversation courtesy, Bob asked me what I do. I mentioned my Top Tag Pet ID and then focused in on One Can A Week. I started out by saying the Community Food Bank provides emergency food assistance for 34,000 unique individuals each week. And this figure is only what they are able to do with their available resources.
Bob interjected a geographic comment about South Tucson and Maen spoke right up. “No, it’s everywhere and affects everyone.” He quickly added, “My store serves a neighborhood just 5 blocks from the university and shortly after I installed a food stamp machine my food sales went up 25%.”
I then mentioned, of that 34,000 figure, 83% live below the federal poverty level ($22,050 for a family of 4) with almost half of these households having one employed adult and 40% of the Community Food Bank’s clients are children. Bob again brought up South Tucson and I knew I was not getting through to him.
I thought about the 34,000 folks and saw them in my mind just as if I were at a ballgame or in a shopping mall. Then words just came out of my mouth. Every time you see a huge crowd at a U of A sporting event, that’s how many folks the Community Food Bank feeds each week…and 40% or around 14,000 of the crowd is children. (I quickly figured half of 34,000 and took a bunch off. Later when I used a calculator and got 13,600, I gave myself cookie.)
Another thought came to mind so I did not let Bob interrupt. Every time you get service at a restaurant (fast food or otherwise) or every time you are helped by a clerk at a department store or every time you check out at a superstore, you are looking at a potential client of the Community Food Bank because minimum wage earners are at the most risk for hunger.
“Pay me now … or pay me later”
When I looked in Bob’s eyes I could see I was making an impression so I moved on. When kids do not receive proper nutrition, they experience inadequate brain and personality development and they become discipline problems in the early grades disrupting the teacher and the other children who are trying to learn. Then real trouble starts in high school if they make it that far. On the street they become society’s problem often ending up in the criminal justice system.
As the Fram Oil filter mechanic said in the famous TV commercial, “you can pay me now or pay me later,” referring to bigger expenses if you ignore acting now. Bob laughed and said he liked and remembered that commercial. Even Maen who was new to the country at the time heard of the commercial.
It is better to feed children three square meals a day at very little cost, I continued, than pay for their incarceration year after year when they become adults.
I stopped the conversation or more appropriately, my monologue, right there. Bob was silent for a moment and said, “I have never looked at the hunger problem from that perspective before. It is something to think about.”
I turned to Maen and smiled. For the first time I put a face on hungry folks. These are the people we see every day and they take care of us every day. We’ve got to take care of them every day or at the very least, once a week.
Lots of food, fruit and one chocolate marshmallow Easter Bunny
The chocolate bunny was for me and it was gone before I drove 50 feet after picking it up. However, the 246 lbs. of food we collected—that included 64 lbs. from the Axis Food Mart—arrived safely at the food bank on Monday morning. We also had $8.50 in cash.
See you Sunday,