Photo of Tracy

A few years ago, my very dear friend Kathy and I discovered that we were both at a loss as to what to purchase for each other during the holiday season. After tossing thoughts back and forth it was evident that if we were struggling to come up with ideas for our gift exchange then obviously, we needed absolutely nothing. However, with it being Christmas we just simply couldn't let it go at that. After careful consideration we decided that instead of buying something for each other we would do something meaningful for those less fortunate. Our decision of choosing to volunteer at a local food pantry hit a sweet spot for both of us and shortly thereafter we visited one in our area. We knew immediately we were in the right place as it hit all the bells and whistles we were looking for in a volunteering endeavor. I must tell you that it has been the gift that keeps on giving. I think we both receive so much more in return than we could ever possibly give.
It has been a gratifying education and humbling experience. I have learned so much about hunger in our community and I believe that this dire situation does not have to exist in our area or much less in our country. One of the many misconceptions about hunger in America is that people aren't able to provide food for themselves or their family because they aren't willing to work, in the vast majority of cases this is simply not true. It can be the exact opposite as many of our clients do hold jobs and sometimes ambitiously more than one. While some clients hold common denominators as to why they need food assistance, others have unique circumstances.
Hunger can hide behind many different faces, one of them being an elderly woman who looks just like your grandmother, who simply cannot work and survives off her meager Social Security income. She is torn between choosing food or medication and sometimes receiving neither is the sad truth because she must pay her heating bill instead. I have seen United States Military Veterans stand in line for food because they aren't able to work, perhaps due to a physical or mental disability. They may struggle gaining employment once they are out of the service for a multitude of reasons. It very well could be a middle-aged woman who has been laid off her job and because she is close to retirement age, she may not be a desirable candidate for many employers. It's not for lack of trying, as some of the clients might accept the only job offered which is part-time work at a big box store; but there are no health benefits available, it only pays minimum wage and that simply doesn't pay the bills. There are the families with multiple children and the parents are working, but they aren't making an adequate income to make ends meet. It is truly sad to think that a child is deprived of eating three meals a day because school is not in session due to it being a weekend, a snow day or summer break. Once these children are back at school, they are much more food secure in knowing that they will receive breakfast and lunch on the school free or reduced-price meal program and a food pantry may be supplying the evening meal. I think of the single mothers who will feed their children first tonight and if there is anything left, she may be able to eat, if not she will sleep on an empty stomach. Can you imagine yourself explaining to a child that they can't eat because there is no food? How do you explain the denial of a basic human need?
It is a fact that 1 in 6 people in America are food insecure. Hunger has no boundaries, and it happens consistently throughout the year. The waiting line for clients starts hours ahead of the doors opening in the harsh elements of heat, rain, ice and snow. It is not a convenient drill for those who are hungry, as they will wait all day for a box of food all the while in very poor conditions. Hunger knows no gender, race, religion or age. Hunger can be a very indiscriminate and perpetual annoying monkey on your back that is hard to overcome. You never know when you pass someone on the street if they may have visited a food pantry or a soup kitchen recently. It could be your neighbor, co-worker, fellow student, the person sitting beside you at the ballpark or on a church pew. It's worth noting that hunger is really a side effect of many different issues. The list of culprits that cause hunger is pages long, whether it be from physical illness, mental illness, old age, economic problems, drug addiction, alcoholism, unemployment, or the death of a family member who may have been the main bread winner. Some situations are temporary until one can get on their feet, others can be more long term. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter why people visit a food pantry, as it's not our place to judge. We are only there for the sole purpose of assisting our fellow man. We are all equally susceptible to the harsh realities of a poor and struggling economy and ever-changing social issues.
Let us all help conquer this multi-layered national issue by lending a hand. I encourage you to give of your time by starting a fundraiser, honor someone's birthday, memorialize a loved one, challenge your co-workers, match donations, or simply give a monetary contribution to a local organization that feeds the hungry. There are many soup kitchens, pantries, church organizations and food banks in your area that would welcome your assistance! Lastly, be grateful for the food set forth in front of you each day, share with others, be aware of the food that you allow to go to waste and count each loaf of bread as if it were gold.
Note: To date of the last printing the sales of "My Cottage Kitchen Cookbook" has donated $90,000.00 to feed the food insecure which in turn has provided 270,000.00 meals. Thank you for your support!