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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Poverty Simulation and the Banana Nut Bread Christmas

Christmas Tiny TimThat holiday season three decades ago, “…was the best of times, [and] it was the worst of times…” as Charles Dickens once wrote. The best of times, because we were healthy, the worst, because as a single mom I found myself part of the U.S. poverty statistic.

This memory came flooding back on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, when I participated in the C.O.P.E. (Cost of Poverty Experience) hosted by Edison Community College’s Academy for Community Leadership on the Piqua campus. According to the college’s Website, “C.O.P.E. is a powerful simulation that has been used to help many organizations and communities across the nation work more effectively with low-income families and understand the issues of poverty more comprehensively.”

The U.S. Census Bureau now estimates that “over fifteen percent of the American population lives below the poverty line.”  Since I was once part of this statistic, I was unsure that the simulation would result in a greater personal understanding of the tragic plight of millions of Americans. However, it reminded me that poverty can be really tricky, because the destitution and shame it produces silence you. Once your voice is gone, you can give in to apathy and hopelessness.

I was also wrong about not needing a refresher course on what scarcity feels like. Through the years, I have been blessed with financial stability, and had forgotten the frantic tension that not having enough money for monthly bills, rent, food, or even diapers can produce within a family unit. It all came rushing back that icy morning, while engaged in the free event which was funded through the CareSource Foundation and conducted by the Think Tank.

I also remembered the daunting challenge of finding sufficient employment, which countless Americans continue to face. Unemployment statistics can be misleading, because there are individuals of all ages who have fallen off the unemployment rolls and are no longer accounted for. In addition, the underemployed are another marginalized group trying to make ends meet on a less than livable income.

Besides, the daily struggle, Christmas is coming for this economically endangered population. Thankfully, many communities take note of the needs of those less fortunate during this season believing the Biblical viewpoint that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” especially where children are concerned.Christmas Single Mom

Yet even when your financial situation is rocky, Christmas comes with the human expectation that one should celebrate by giving to others. That’s when my mind recalled my own plight as a young single mother on welfare living in a government-subsidized apartment, despite a newly acquired college degree. I was ashamed of betraying my hard-fought dream of becoming a middle-class citizen through higher education. After months of sending out resume after resume during the recession of the early eighties, there was still no career prospect on the horizon.

Wanting to give presents to my loved ones is how the banana nut bread Christmas came to be. Not blessed with much domestic talent, I surprised myself that winter by mastering a recipe for banana nut bread.

I got a couple boxes of Bisquick, nuts, some reduced over-ripe bananas perfect for baking, and a dented box of foil from a food salvage store. Loaf after loaf of golden brown bread baked in my little apartment oven in borrowed loaf pans. Then once the delicious smelling bread cooled, I wrapped it in seasonally appropriate, silver (aluminum) foil and tied a festive red bow around it. Admittedly, the nuts in the nut bread were quite sparse, due to my budget.

Since, “It [really] is more blessed to give than to receive,” giving homemade banana nut bread as presents to family and friends gave me special joy. I had beaten the recession Grinch who had tried to steal Christmas.

When one is able to give something – anything – hope arises in the midst of lack. Hope for a brighter future and better life!

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com . This column was originally published in the Sidney Daily News and the Piqua Daily Call.

 

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