When you think of childhood hunger, what comes to mind? For me, it’s usually those ads with kids in Africa with the distended tummies and some soft voice over about how for just pennies a day we can feed a starving child. I hate those ads. Not because I don’t support what they do, but because I feel like they’re preying on my kindness and desire to make the world better. As a kid, even though I didn’t have a lot of food, compared to those kids on TV I was eating like a queen.
A number of years ago I was at a conference and there was a booth about the No Kid Hungry program. I had never heard of the program and found out it was just a few years old, having rolled out as part of Share Our Strength in 2008. I knew exactly what they were trying to do. End child hunger in America.
It pains me that in this great country so many kids go to bed hungry every night. Even more kids deal with food insecurity, not knowing if they’ll have anything to take for lunch or to eat when they get home from school. We don’t think about kids in our own communities going without meals. Unlike many of the poorest countries in the world, as we go about our day the likelihood of encountering a child who deals with hunger or food insecurity isn’t something we see.
Yes, we know it exists. Yes, we donate to food pantries. Yes, we realize our kids go to school with students who get free or reduced meals. But it’s actually hard to really see and grasp.
Most people don’t know, but for almost all of elementary school I got free lunch. There were no snacks waiting for me when I got home. Meals were simple. Not as in simple because mom was busy. Simple as in “pretend tomato soup” made with ketchup and hot water, or half a sandwich because if I ate a whole one my mom would have nothing to eat. And meals were even more simple as the month wore on if my grandparents or my uncle didn’t “happen to stop by on their way home from the store.” I don’t think I ever went hungry in the sense that there was no food at all or that I went to school or to bed without eating something, but there was definitely a sense that if there was more food I would eat it.
I went to school early, usually leaving the house to catch the 6:45 a.m. bus so I could have breakfast. There were a lot of us, probably 10 kids, so it didn’t really seem all that weird. I wasn’t bullied or made fun of because I ate breakfast at school. In the summer, I rarely ate breakfast. Which is a habit born out of necessity that dies hard.
Every Monday my teacher would give me five lunch tickets. If I lost them, I wouldn’t have lunch. I diligently wrote my name on the back of each ticket, in case they got lost, and then put them in my pencil bag. I remember in 4th grade my lunch tickets were yellow. Some kids had blue tickets. Years later I understood why some kids were handed blue tickets and some kids yellow. It’s humbling to realize that my mother had to ask for help, yet she did everything so it wouldn’t affect me so much.
I know what food insecurity is. I understand how it can impact your ability to learn and pay attention in school. I have a great appreciation for the food that I am served because I often had a choice of eating food I didn’t care for or going hungry. When you’re 6 or 7 it’s a pretty easy choice.
Although we didn’t keep kosher – imaging trying to do that when you’re dependent on other people providing your food – there was a long list of food I couldn’t eat. I rarely ate meat, even at school. You don’t realize how often schools serve ham, or cheeseburgers, or sloppy joes until you have to trade your friends your main dish for their peas or carrots or corn. You don’t realize how few vegetables are actually served until you ask a number of the kids around you ‘are you going to eat that’ as you point to whatever vegetables they’ve pushed to the side just so you don’t feel hungry any more.
I don’t worry about if I will eat today. My daughter will never know a home without food, nutritious or otherwise. At nearly 50, I am still affected by the lack of food when I was a kid. Today, I have the privilege of choosing organic, nutritious, fresh foods. I also have the ability to be part of the solution to put an end to a situation I know too well.
Dine Out for No Kids Hungry is a month-long promotion in September to help end child hunger in America and get more people involved in solving this problem. There are thousands of restaurants participating across the country to help bring an end to child hunger and kids dealing with food insecurity. By dining out at a participating restaurant a portion of the profits from your meal will be donated to Share Our Strength. Go eat out!
With your change you can be the change. Kids should never have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Please learn more about No Kid Hungry by following them on Twitter, Like their Facebook page, and share your support of those restaurants and companies donating by tagging your photos with #NoKidHungry.
Note: It’s not easy to share stories like this, but as I get older I realize how important it is for me to shed the fear of sharing and do it to help kids like me. This is not a sponsored post.