Children and Seniors are going to Bed Hungry

“Could you please give me a dollar, so I could get something to eat?” I was in a restaurant parking lot one evening last summer when a twenty-something male approached me and asked me this question. The slight-built red-head didn’t seem to be high on any substance, but I wasn’t sure.

A Healthy Meal from Panera Bread

A Healthy Meal from Panera Bread

“A dollar? What can a dollar buy?” I replied suspiciously acting a lot tougher than I felt, because the lot was deserted and I didn’t know what to do. I had to do something, because my sense of spiritual and moral responsibility had kicked in. Yet as a female, it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings and keep yourself safe.“I could get a donut,” he said hopefully.

Here’s the thing, you can never give people who say they need food, money. Not ever. This is a hard and fast rule I learned years ago volunteering in a large ministry’s food pantry. Sadly, the food money can turn into drug money. Now days, gift cards can be sold for heroin too. I’m not judging others who are in dire straits financially. Long ago, as a single mother I was part of the poverty statistic, which fuels my empathy. The point is, if you treat everyone the same, you don’t have to decide who’s high or who’s hungry. Anyway, addicted individuals still need to eat, and more importantly, so do their kids.

According to www.neighborhood-voice.com, “One in four children in Ohio either go to bed hungry or are at risk of going to bed hungry each night.” It’s a frightening feeling being an adult without resources looking at empty cupboards. Can you imagine how much more helpless a child confronted by those barren shelves must feel? Another organization www.feedingamerica.org reports that 21.5 million U.S. children took part in their school’s free or reduced meal program in 2014. But on weekends during the school year, if a food BackPack program isn’t in place, there are children who might not eat. Thankfully, there are also independent summer meal programs for kids in our community, but they need of our support.

Wonderful Gram

Wonderful Gram

There are also millions of malnourished seniors struggling with food insecurity. Long ago, my late grandmother entrusted me with the china platter that is a tangible reminder of this vulnerable population. The ivory-colored serving plate, which was once rimmed with gold, is now glazed with tiny cracks of advanced age. It’s not an antique, being devalued by the ravages of constant use. Still, to me, the platter is priceless. The turn of the century dish first belonged to my grandma’s aged female neighbor, who would sometimes sell it to “Gram” for $5.00 at the end of the month when her check ran out. Being out of money, meant being out of food; and like many older folks living alone, this senior was too proud to tell her family or a government agency that she needed help.

Besides, in those days, five dollars spent frugally could purchase a week’s worth of groceries. The neighbor would simply buy the platter back, when she received her monthly check. My grandmother’s income was more comfortable. I’m sure she would have gladly given her neighbor some groceries, but the purchase of the platter salvaged the pride of an elderly woman who was used to making her own way. It was decades ago, and there weren’t many established senior nutrition programs like “Home Delivered Meals,” or “Congregate Meals.” Gram’s neighbor died without retrieving the dish, which makes me proud thinking that Grandma might have helped her to the very end. The old platter also reminds me to be grateful for the luxury of the abundant food my family is blessed with. It is a symbol that others are not so fortunate, and that they continue to require assistance to meet their basic nutritional requirements.

Like the redhead in the parking lot, but since a donut isn’t a healthy nutritional choice, it wouldn’t solve his problem. Without thinking, I said to the young man who was younger than my son, “Follow me,” and headed back into the restaurant where I had just come from. Trying not to embarrass him, I paid for his meal, making certain it was food not drugs that my hard-earned cash was buying. Then muttering a sincere “God bless you,” I walked out hoping that somehow his circumstances would get better soon. I felt really good for a minute. Then I realized that countless other individuals in our community would be going to bed without supper that night, some of them, innocent children.  

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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About Alzheimer’s: The Long Good-Bye

Shopping Good Friday“Could you please help me find some sheets?” I was surprised when an elderly man asked me for assistance while I was shopping. Instantly, I realized that the eighty-something senior had mistaken me for a store clerk. It was an autumn Sunday afternoon in an Ohio mall, and the slight-built male was dressed like a farmer in his best church clothes. He was neat, in a non-fussy sort of way, but he seemed so alone. I wondered where his spouse was, because you could tell he was the kind of man who had had a wife for so long that he wasn’t functioning well without her.

“Is your wife gone?” I asked guessing he was a recent widower used to his mate buying the household goods. There was a gold wedding band on his small wrinkled hand. It hung on his finger like he had once been larger than he was now.

“No, she’s still alive,” he answered. “She’s in the nursing home, and I go to see her every day.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, that must be difficult,” I said saddened for his situation. “Is she ill? How long have you been married?” I wasn’t trying to pry with my questions. Rather I learned a long time ago, that sometimes the best gift you can give an elderly human being is to simply listen.

Bride and Groom Cake TopperHis eyes brightened as he told me that they had been together for more than six decades. Then he shared the dreaded diagnosis, “Alzheimer’s. My wife has Alzheimer’s.” In that moment I understood his circumstances.

“More than five million Americans are living with the disease” according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association Website, www.alz.org. In addition, “In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care…. “ The progression of this cruel malady is sometimes titled, “The long good-bye.” The physical body of those afflicted might remain intact, but right before your eyes, they die gradually to the person they once were, and a part of you often dies with them.

Understanding Alzheimer’s, enabled me to support my husband in healing from the loss of his late father. Traumatically, the doting dad he adored didn’t even know who my spouse was by the end. I had also experienced the trauma of having someone I loved not recognize me. My great-grandmother had some type of undiagnosed dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, but in the 1970s many folks used the general term, “senility.”

Back then, my formerly wonderful grandma falsely accused my poor mother of starving her. Once, shortly after eating a big dinner followed by a couple pieces of pie while visiting us, I overheard her loudly complain to relatives about not being fed. She was petite in an emaciated sort of way, causing her accusations to seem believable. After my mother’s grandmother went to a nursing home, the last time I visited her, not only did she not know me, but she accused me of stealing money from her bedside bureau. I felt shame and hurt, because as a teenager I didn’t understand how common a false allegation from someone struggling with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia could be.

All of these thoughts came rushing back during my conversation with the elderly stranger who wanted new sheets. I was encouraging him to avoid polyester and look for 100% cotton. I was wondering too, what it was like for him at the nursing home. “Does she know you?” I asked hoping that he was one of the fortunate ones. That despite the ravages of this hideous illness, his wife would still know who he was. Maybe not say his name, but at least that her eyes would light up when he entered the room.

A terrible sadness passed over his countenance as he replied, “Today was the first time that I don’t think she did.”28334354-elderly-eighty-plus-year-old-woman-in-a-wheel-chair-in-a-home-setting-with-her-husband

I was so thankful that I had slowed myself down that afternoon and taken time to listen to his heartbreaking story. I was hopeful that somehow just sharing had lessened his burden of this new loss, because Alzheimer’s is all about stages of grief. Besides, once we have experienced Alzheimer’s firsthand, it can become a calling to lighten the load of another who is walking the treacherous path of the long good-bye, because no one should have to walk that difficult journey alone.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. For more information the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline is 1-800-272-3900.

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