Perception is Everythingby Montgomery Area Food Bank on 06/11/14
“Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods, but the reality is much different. Right now, millions of Americans are at risk of hunger. These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot always make ends meet and may be forced to go without food.”
This quote, provided by Feeding America, perfectly describes the assumptions that go along with hunger and those that receive food assistance. The perception of a hungry person is this: “they must be hungry because they are homeless”, “they must be hungry because they use their money on drugs and alcohol”, “they must be hungry because they aren’t responsible with their money”. This is a gross misrepresentation of the people we strive to serve. The truth is, “it is a silent epidemic that affects over 50 million Americans” or 1 out of every 6 people.
The term “working poor” was created just to define these groups- families that have at least one working adult in the home, seniors that have extreme medical expenses and live on a fixed income, or children that suffer because their parents are struggling to make ends meet. Wikipedia describes the working poor as this, “The wages the working poor receive are insufficient to provide basic necessities and lead to people making choices between having food on the table or having a table. Largely because they earning such low wages, the working poor face numerous obstacles that make it difficult for many of them to find and keep a job, save up money, and maintain a sense of self-worth.” It surprised me that Wikipedia’s definition included maintaining “ a sense of self-worth”; this is an all too important aspect of human nature that gets lost in the politics of providing relief to those that are in need.
Most of us are one hardship away from becoming one of our clients. Over 40% of those that we serve have at least one working adult in the home. All it takes is a job loss, a serious medical issue or a natural disaster and you could lose the ability to provide food for yourself or your family. If you have ever been in that situation, or helped a family that has, you can imagine how it feels. You have always been able to provide, it may not have been much, but you had food on the table, a roof over your head and basic necessities like laundry detergent and deodorant. If you lose everything, the small amount of money you do have has to be used carefully. Do you pay the rent and utilities or buy food for your children? Will you even have enough food to feed yourself? What if your car is need of repair? Can you afford to fix it? Could you even afford to put gas in it to take your children to school or to find a job? Can you afford to give your children money for lunch? Can you pay for your cell phone or your wireless internet? The answer is, no, some things will fall to the wayside and a decision has to be made for what is necessary and what is a luxury.
Calling and asking for help seems like a simple solution but this is where the ‘sense of self-worth’ comes in. It’s a difficult thing to do. It is human nature to have pride in yourself and for some; it comes down to how you were raised. You may not even have a phone to call and if you do, you may not even be able to talk to a real person. In this day and age, everything is automated, so imagine trying to get in touch with someone to help you and all you receive is an answering machine or a number to select. At this point, you are exhausted, desperate and frustrated because all you want is a solution. You have been shuffled through forms and requirements and have called numbers again and again, just to make sure you and your children can eat. “The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is less than $1.50 per person, per meal” and this doesn’t cover basic household necessities like dish and laundry detergent, soap or diapers. This is hunger in America.
In a survey conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors, 88.5% of cities participating in the survey cited unemployment as one of three major causes of hunger in their city. That is a staggering majority. We all know that the economic recession had an impact on job security, benefits and retirement, but some know it all too well. Minimum wage jobs were considered a God-send to those that realized unemployment after years of service, to those that were let go because their company could not afford to pay them any longer or because their benefits were too much of an expense. They are not in some faraway third-world country- they are your neighbors, they are your church members, they are your friends.
This is where the Montgomery Area Food Bank comes in. Since 1986, we have strived to serve our neighbors in need. In 1987, we distributed over 1.9 million pounds of food and other necessities and today, we distribute over 20 million across 35 counties within the state of Alabama. While it is a success to increase our distribution to serve even more hungry people, it is a failure to not serve even more. Hunger is a consistent and national problem. It extends to our grandparents, our parents and our children. It is not going away.
This is where you come in. Without your support, we would be unable to provide relief to those that need it most. Without you, we would be unable to sort and distribute product through tireless volunteer hours. Without you, we would be unable to expand our programs and educate others on being self-sufficient. Our mission is impossible without you. You are as necessary to hunger relief as we are, and together we can help “Feed Hope Across Alabama”.