Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why Hunger Is a Cause Close to My Heart

This morning, I drove out to volunteer with the produce distribution at a local church. I do this pretty regularly as a proud supporter of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the excellent work they do in Northeast Ohio. I've worked with them on a variety of events in various different roles. Admittedly, volunteering in general is very important to me, but I always try to make a point to volunteer specifically with the Food Bank.

They have an excellent mission. Not only are they continually working toward their goals to alleviate hunger and food insecurity in Northeast Ohio, but they're making a huge effort to make sure it's healthy, nutritious foods that are getting in to the hands of those who need it most --especially in food deserts. A food desert is a place, generally urban, where you have no direct access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Either because places are too far away (i.e., not easily accessible via public transportation), they're too expensive, or the few places people have access to don't carry the staples that they really need to live well. This is one reason that I love working at the produce distribution events. They bring in a truck full of fresh fruits, vegetables and breads at a participating location and then people come through the line to get their allotted amount of whatever is being distributed that day.

But the biggest reason I love volunteering with the Food Bank? Because I've been there. I know, I know. I'm not what people expect when they think about hunger in our society. I don't fit the "type". I'm single with no kids. I'm college-educated. I'm employed full time (and was at the time this occurred, as well). But several years ago, I was at a point where I didn't have enough money to buy groceries. The year I graduated (2009) was touted as the worst year in recent history for college graduates because there was so little work and the only jobs that were available were low-skill and low-wage. Couple that with student loans and an old, barely-working car that was regularly in for expensive repairs just to stay on the road, let alone drive safely, and you've got a prime recipe for food insecurity. There were days where I would come home from work and just go straight to bed because if I had stayed awake, I would've wanted to eat dinner. Off-brand Rice Krispies and pasta were my go-to meals because they were so cheap. I often wondered how my coworkers with children managed to make ends meet as I was struggling just to feed myself.  More and more stories have come out lately about "unexpected" people needing food assistance. It only emphasizes the wide scope of hunger and that putting anyone or any cause in a stereotypical box is ill-advised.

Fortunately for me, this was a short period in my life. But it definitely left its mark. It opened my eyes to just how widespread food insecurity is in our country and how hunger impacts us all. Even now, I don't feel entirely comfortable sharing this information. I've never admitted this to family members and very few friends as there's this shame (mostly in my head) associated with not being able to make ends meet.  It feels awkward and embarrassing even though I know that certain circumstances were out of my control and I just did the best I could with what I had.

And that, my friends, is why I stood in the rain today, sorting and bagging onions and distributing them to a wide variety of people with very real needs. It wasn't hard. It wasn't even time-consuming. It was just a way to give back to a great organization serving a great community. And to hopefully make a difference in someone's life. Even if it is with just a bag of onions.
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