Last week I wrote about a nearby farm stand and the joy I get from beautiful fresh food. Unfortunately, the entire time I was writing I was acutely aware that my pleasure was, in part, a result of my privilege. I could take advantage of the farm stand because I could get there easily, and I could afford to pay more than supermarket prices. A short distance in the other direction is a neighborhood where most residents do not have these advantages.
I drive by a billboard between my home and this neighborhood every day that asks, “Why do 1 in 6 children in America struggle with hunger?”
The county I lived in until a few months ago, Talbot County, Maryland, is one of the wealthiest in the country, but 43% of its public school children are on free and reduced meals. My Rotary Club, Tidewater Rotary of Easton, participated in “CarePacks,” a program that filled backpacks with food and snacks for children to take home over the weekend. CarePacks was dependent on government surplus and private donations. Because the food had to last through the storage, packing and distribution process, it was largely canned or packaged. Occasionally they were able to add a piece of fruit.
The children served by CarePacks went home to houses with working parents (often with multiple jobs) who, when money ran low, paid the rent and met their car payments, but cut back on food because it was a “discretionary item.” Food insecurity, or not knowing when or if they will have adequate food, affects families of every race and ethnicity. Rather than living in an oasis that would sustain them in the middle of a desert, these families are living in a “food desert,” an area without access to fresh, nutritional food in spite of being in the middle of abundant farmland.
When I relocated to Berkshire County I found out about a program at the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market that enables seniors and families who receive food assistance to double the value of their benefits(while funds last) for the purchase of fresh food. A short while later I was touring Berkshire Community College and noticed a food pantry which had not been present when I left 15 years ago. Pantries and other food programs have become a regular feature at community colleges.
These are all wonderful programs, started and supported by caring people. But they do not answer the question, “Why do 1 in 6 children in America struggle with hunger?” The greatest country in the world can afford to feed all its children but chooses not to. And, in the name of “making us great again,” our leaders would cut resources to the most vulnerable while adding to those who need them least.
This is not leadership. It is a cruel and callous disregard for basic human rights.