Come to the school picnic Mom – then you can eat, too.

donated food stacked next to volunteer shelter dog
How Our Families Experience Hunger

Working at a homeless shelter for single mothers with children has changed my outlook on the world, especially since we have started offering services to families after they move back into the community. Homelessness is one thing – chronic, crushing poverty is another. I now understand hunger in a very sad and tangible way.

I got a call this morning from one of our alumni Moms. She’d moved out years ago and has remained stable in her housing – the longest her kids have ever been stably housed. We see her periodically at social events; have watched her children grow over the years. Her son’s school picture is wedged into a photo collage over my desk.

“Christina said I could call if I ever needed anything.” She started, after we ‘d chatted a little, just happy to connect. “My food stamps ran out and I tried to use the food bank down the street, but I’ve lost the kids’ social security cards. I thought they were in the folder where I keep all my papers, but they’re gone.”

“We have copies I can send to you?”

“No, I have copies just incase – but the food bank has to see the original.”

“Oh,” I acknowledged. Food banks have a variety of requirements, ranging from how often you can get food, to residency, to a range of required identity documents.

“The kids are having an all-school picnic this afternoon with hot dogs and hamburgers, so I know they’ll eat today. D. really wanted me to come to the picnic, too, so I could eat – but I told him I needed to stay home and figure out how to get some food in the house… I get my food stamps next Wednesday and then we’ll be fine.”

“Alright, no problem. I can bring stuff on my way home from work. What kind of stuff do you need.”

“Look, Miss Wendy, when you’re hungry you’ll eat anything.” She replied lightly.

“I know – but I am going to pack up some bags and I’d rather bring stuff I know you like.”

“Well – I have a big bag of rice in the house because you can make lots of stuff with that – and I have some sugar and tea so I can make some sweet tea – but we are all out of meat and canned goods, everything really.” Then she proceeded to tell me about the last time our alumni case manager came by with food last fall and how she’d brought a pie crust mix and all the ingredients for pumpkin pie. “Oh – the kids loved that! We rolled it out together – it was real good!”

I loved talking with this Mom, catching up with her about her mother and three kids, sharing the news from the shelter. She is a proud, capable woman who has survived some outrageous things in her life. She is gracious and funny; one of the most knowledgeable people I know about how to navigate our public transit system. But the image of her soft-spoken son pleading with her to go to the school picnic so that she could eat lingers in my mind.

This mother is not alone. In 2011 when we did our annual alumni survey, 75% of our moms reported that they periodically run out of food. They report issues with the food stamp computer system, that it is hard to get to a regular grocery store on the bus with their children, that their money or food is stolen, and they have unexpected bills that take precedence.

I am entirely grateful to the donors who bring us non-perishable food. Being able to bring that food out to families who call us when they have none is an amazing blessing. Today, their small act of kindness will give peace of mind to a 12 year old boy who is worried about his mother going hungry.