Growing up I never realized the significance and necessity of food. Each morning, afternoon and evening my mother would call out my name and say, "It's time to eat!" Eventually, I would make my way to the kitchen. The meal was always on the table, beautifully prepared and ready to be eaten. This was normal daily life for me. I saw it as an expectation rather than a blessing. To say the least, I was entitled, uneducated and simply ungrateful.
As time went on, I began to see how truly blessed I was. I began to notice friends who would try and sneak extra cartons of milk and sandwiches from the school lunch line. I would often think to myself, "Why are they stealing? They can just get some at home in a of couple hours when school is over." Little did I know that for some of my friends, school lunch was their only reliable source of food.
The older I got, the more my eyes were opened. Through different life experiences, I started to notice that not everyone around me grew up the same way I did — a sheltered white boy from an average middle-class family in the suburbs of Seattle. For the first time, I was exposed to individuals and families who were barely surviving, working pay check to pay check, praying to God that they would somehow find a way to make it through the next day.
Sadly, in many cases these families are not the exception, but the norm. In Clark County, more than 65% of children are enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs. That is over 213,000 kids who are considered "food insecure."
I don't know about you, but when I heard that number my heart sank. No child should let the fear or uncertainty of their next meal get in the way of their hopes and dreams. How can you dream about being the next great doctor, musician, athlete or inventor if you can't ignore the aches and pains that come from a hungry belly?
Earlier in this post I referred to my "eyes being opened" though different experiences. Today was one of those experiences. As a summer intern with Three Square Food Bank, I was given the opportunity to assist the Meet Up and Eat Up summer meals program. Since kids are not going to school during the summer months, they need a substitute for the meals that they would otherwise get at school. Each summer morning, hundreds of meals are loaded into Three Square's refrigerated vans. The vans then drive out to various locations throughout the valley. At each location, lunches are handed out one by one to kids 18 years or younger.
It's one thing to hear about this program but experiencing it first hand is a whole different story. As we pulled up to the first apartment complex, it seemed as if the ice cream man had just made an appearance. Kids were lined up on the street anticipating their next or only meal of the day. The undeniable sadness of this reality was overshadowed by humble and polite "thank-yous" uttered by each child as they received their meal. Needless to say, I was left feeling saddened, yet grateful as well as feeling helpless yet hopeful. Overall it was an experience that left me motivated and inspired to stop living in ignorance and bliss, and to start believing in hope and change.
Hunger is and will always be an issue. However, with the dedication and help from programs, community members and organizations such as Three Square, we can continue to bring smiling faces to the struggling families who would otherwise be burdened with a load they cannot bear.