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I Have Been Hungry | Sharon Thornberry

I Have Been Hungry | Sharon Thornberry
 

I have always resisted participating in poverty simulations and fasts to protest hunger for the 25 years I have been doing anti-hunger work.  Not because I thought it was a bad idea, but because I have been there in real life.  When my first husband, a Vietnam vet left the Marine Corps in 1978 and we moved to rural Texas north of Houston our lives fell apart.  He was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, pay checks did not find their way home and my children and I were soon in serious trouble.  We were far from family and friends, living in a remote location without a car.  I had been poor a lot of my life, but I had never been hungry.  I still cannot find words three decades later to describe how I felt when there was nothing to feed my children.  I had been rationing food for days, only eating a little each day myself, and then the day came when there was nothing.  My children were two and five.

I prayed all night that my husband would return home with food and a paycheck.  It didn’t happen.  We had a new neighbor about a quarter of a mile away that I had met once.  She had told me she was a nurse, surely she would help.  I got up the next morning and dressed my children in their best clean clothes (to prove I was a good mother) and walked to the neighbor’s.  I found myself telling a nearly complete stranger that I had nothing to feed my children and I had no idea what to do.  This woman, whose name I can no longer remember, fed my children and I breakfast and told me about a program called “Food Stamps”.  She wasn’t sure about how it all worked, but she would drive me to the nearest office in Humble to apply.  She was sure they would help.  A few hours later, we had been qualified for food stamps, but we would not actually receive any benefits for 3 days.  There was a brand new food pantry in the same office complex as the state offices.  They were very proud of it and let me look through the window, but were uncertain when it would be open.  My neighbor once again came to the rescue by taking me to a grocery store and giving me $5.00.  I bought 5/$1 mac & cheese, turkey hot dogs, frozen green peas & milk and for three days that was what we ate.  I sliced the hot dogs thin, sprinkled the peas on each batch to make sure my kids had a vegetable and thanked God for every bite.  Three days later, we picked up our food stamps and bought groceries.  I have never looked at food the same way again.

My children and I were on food stamps twice (six months each time) in those early years of getting back on my feet after I realized their Dad was never going to be able to cope with taking care of a family.  I received WIC for my daughter until she was five and my son received free meals at school.  I got day care assistance that it made it possible for me to afford to work, build skills and a resume.   The Federal Nutrition Programs made our economic recovery possible and provided me with a dignified means to feed my children.

It is inconceivable to me that Congress can so casually and in many ways maliciously write off these programs as wasteful and out of control.  Why is it that the most vulnerable in our population are seemingly blamed and punished for circumstances far beyond their control?   The Federal Nutrition Programs are doing what they are designed to do, if anything they need to be expanded to better meet the real cost of food and consider the real cost of living in our country.  Are we really a country that balances its budget by cutting our strongest defense against hunger and eroding further the tenuous economic stability of so many Americans trying to recover from a seemingly endless recession?

Sharon Thornberry is the Community Food Systems Manager at the Oregon Food Bank.  She has been a grassroots organizer, trainer and advocate for community food systems, rural communities, and anti-hunger work in Oregon since 1986.   She served on the board of the Community Food Security Coalition and also serves on the board of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute.

 

  1. Tammie Smith04-13-11

    Sharon, thank you so much for sharing your story. In a country of such surplus, the common narrative of low-income America should not be one of fear and pain.

  2. Beau04-13-11

    Thank you for writing this.

  1. America’s National Humiliation - HungerFast.org04-15-11
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