I meet up with a girlfriend for dinner after work. “I’m starving!” I say. “Let’s get an appetizer.”
It’s Good Friday, a day of fast and abstinence for Catholics. No meat allowed today, and only one full meal and two small meals. Juice is allowed, so I drink quarts of V-8. Whining is not allowed. I wait for midnight, then eat Taco Bell before bed because I can’t sleep on an empty stomach.
Work is busy, and I don’t find time for lunch until after 1:00. I’m cranky and I can’t think anymore. I’ve got to take a break and get something to eat.
I finish up a long run and my legs are shaky with exertion. I need to refuel. I wolf down a banana and drink a liter of cold water, fresh from the Brita pitcher in my refrigerator.
I don’t even have a TV, and yet I’ve seen enough images of the dire post-earthquake situation in Haiti. Enough injury and death, enough hunger and desperation, enough empty-faced children to fill my eyes with tears as I run on the treadmill at the gym while the images play over and over on the TV above my head.
I have a gut-level urge to go help. I picture myself jumping off a boat with a group of volunteers in matching vests and caps, handing out food and water, maybe bandaging a few wounds or comforting some orphans. It would be hard, dirty, dangerous work, but I want to go. Of course, I’m not the only American to feel this way, but most of us can’t go, because we wouldn’t be helpful yet, we’d just be in the way. We can and do send money, but we have to stay home.
My comfortable, north-of-Seattle neighborhood hasn’t been devastated by a natural disaster, but there are hungry people here. People who are elderly, disabled, or unemployed. Single mothers whose food stamps run out before the end of the month. You wouldn’t know them if you saw them on the street or at church. But I know them. I hear the pride fighting with desperation in their voices on the phone as they ask for help.
One week a month, I get the requests for food assistance that come to our local Saint Vincent de Paul conference. It’s my week this week. I talk to the clients and schedule a time to come to their home. I call up a fellow volunteer. We fill bags of groceries from the donated food in our pantry, load up the car, and deliver the food to clients.
As I fill bags with tuna and canned vegetables and cereal, macaroni and cheese and microwave popcorn, I wish we could provide more nutritious, less processed food to our clients. But we are grateful to the donors that help us feed the hungry, and our clients are just concerned with filling their children’s bellies, not with whether the food is organic.
We drive around the neighborhood, searching out addresses in the dark. At least it’s not raining. Some we’ve been to many times before, like the elderly couple who are raising their grandson. Neither is able to work due to health problems. They start thanking us as we walk in the door with the groceries, and continue calling “Thank you! Have a good night!” down the hall as we leave their tiny, spotless apartment.
Our next stop is a new client, living in a rented room in a house. He’s never asked for help before. He’s a roofer, and between the usual winter slow-down and the economy, he hasn’t had a job in several months. His savings have run out, and he’s getting a little nervous about how he’ll make it until spring. He says he’s been trying to sleep as late as possible in the morning so that he can get by on two meals per day.
A mentally ill client invites us in to her apartment, which is filled with junk. It’s hard to find a place to put down the food amidst the dirt and clutter. “I’ve been trying to clean things up,” she says.
It’s Saturday morning. I’ve slept until 11:00, and we’re flipping pancakes and frying bacon, but breakfast won’t be ready for another ten minutes. “I’m dying of hunger,” I say.
This week is The United Way of King County’s Hunger Action Week. Check out their website for ways you can raise awareness, get involved, and help the hungry, including the Hunger Challenge.