I have been sitting on this post for a while. It is an important post to me, but the timing of the post is just as important. This is another transparent look at my life, and as much as I want to tell the story, I don’t want this to be seen as a platform for charity or begging.
Three weeks ago, on a Tuesday morning, I was sitting in the kitchen while my husband poured our coffee. I had taken my first sip when he leaned over, hugged me, and looked me in the eye. The expression on his face was a mixture of adoration, devotion, and pain. The words from his mouth terrified me.
“I wanted to talk to you about something last night, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t trying to keep anything from you, but I wanted you to get a good night’s sleep and not worry.”
Huh? What was he about to tell me? I was breathing, but the breaths were shallow.
He went on to tell me that he had made a mistake, and that after he had paid bills the night before, we had about $30 to last two weeks. We, like many Americans, live paycheck to paycheck. We have no savings, no credit cards, and we don’t even have stellar credit. Whatever we have in our pockets is what we have. We needed gas and I had been excited about going grocery shopping since we didn’t have much in the house to eat. It was time to rethink that plan.
It’s important for me to tell you that I love my husband with everything in me, and I wasn’t at all mad at him. Anger never entered my mind, in fact. This isn’t even the first time we’ve had to chose carefully what and how much we can eat, and I know it won’t be the last.
I want to share with you, though, how we made it through those two weeks. Again, this isn’t really a story about me, or about us. It’s a story about poverty and hunger in America. I think the story needs to be told, and Hunger Awareness/Action Month seems like a great time to share it. In this land of abundance, do we even understand how someone can have “not enough”?
After I assured my husband that I loved him, I wasn’t upset, and I was ready to act, I headed out to our chest freezer. When we got our tax return this year, we spent a small chunk of money on meat at my “stock up” price and put it in the freezer. We had used a good amount of that meat, but I knew we did have some left, and we needed to take inventory. We found 2 pounds of ground turkey, 2 pork loins (2.5 pounds each), 16 smoked bone-in chicken breasts (I had my dad smoke these and bring them to us when he came for a visit in July), 3 packages of split chicken breasts-bone in (4 pounds each), a package of thin, assorted pork chops, a package of thick boneless pork chops, and 2 turkey breasts. I knew we would be ok on meat, but I also knew that this two week period would clear out the freezer.
The other fortunate thing for us is that we actually work at our church’s food pantry. We had easy access to emergency food. Each week at the food bank we get breads and produce via local food rescue efforts, and I sometimes bring home things that are left when we close. This particular day, though, I took things our family could use just before we opened the doors. I got broccoli, baby cut carrots, corn on the cob, bagged salad, and a partial watermelon. I also took a loaf of sandwich bread, and a loaf of multi-grain bread that our clients don’t usually take. I was careful to balance our needs while leaving plenty of great stuff for others. (Honestly, it was one of the best loads of produce we’ve ever received!)
I also waited until we closed that day, and then packed emergency food bags for our family, just like I would for other clients. I got rice, macaroni and cheese, canned corn, canned green beans, and peanut butter.
Our local grocery store had Oscar Mayer bologna on sale 4/$5. Now, this is NOT my favorite food, but my kids don’t mind it occasionally, and the new bacon flavored bologna somehow makes it more palatable. We picked up three of those, and one jalapeño flavored for the husband. Oh, I forgot to add that we had some hot dogs in our freezer too! We also had a few fish sticks, and some random things like Ramen noodles. Of course, I also had kitchen staples like flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, margarine, and spices.
Now, among our family of seven is my youngest sister. She is receiving disability payments after a work accident last year, so she got paid in the midst of this, and she went to the store with me. She bought 10 pounds of potatoes, some frozen veggies, and some discounted bread. She got us some milk and eggs too, and some instant oatmeal that was discounted.
We spent two weeks eating what we had to eat, not what we wanted. We didn’t do any extra driving, and almost all of our meals were labor intensive, or required me to plan ahead. I brewed iced tea to drink, and used coffee to fend off the caffeine headaches. I ate stale cereal from the cabinet for breakfast most mornings, and we cleaned out the stash of Ramen noodles. (Ew!!)
By the end of the two weeks, we were eating, but I was honestly a bit worried about gas and my husband making it to work. We prayed a lot, hugged a lot, and smiled a lot and I did my best to keep things normal for the kids. Although it was no secret that “we don’t have any money”, I didn’t want them to know that we were pennies away from not eating. Each meal I prepared required lots of thought and planning, because I didn’t want to end the week with a meal of hot dogs and baked potatoes, or pork chops and potato chips.
The praying, as always, paid off. Four days before payday, unable to do any extra driving, my husband had to admit to a friend that he couldn’t make it to an appointment across town because gas and money were an issue. That friend came to our side of town, took husband to lunch, and bought some gas for our car.
It is always humbling to receive these kinds of gifts, but I can’t help but think about others. Not everyone has family or friends or a church to depend on. Sometimes emergency food pantries are hard to access. At their best, pantries and food banks provide food for just a few days. In the United States, more than one out of five children lives in a household with food insecurity, which means they do not always know where they will find their next meal. (source) The USDA defines food insecurity as meaning “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” (source) I hear those definitions and I think in terms of “them”, but the truth is, that’s me. My children are being raised in a household that doesn’t always know where their food will come from. Our meals can be lacking in nutrition at times, just because we’re eating what I can afford.
The point of this post, again, is not to beg for money or food, but to demonstrate that statistics aren’t just numbers, they’re real people with real lives, and real needs. In this house, four out of four children live in a household with food insecurity.