Food Bank supporter Denise reflects on growing up food-insecure, and has a message for donors.
My first experience with hunger was at age three. My parents were in the process of divorcing which created a strain on my mother’s mental health. Meal times were not scheduled – if I was hungry, I found something to eat. A lot of times there was nothing, just emptiness. Empty cupboards, empty fridge, empty pantry. Many times, I cried out of anguish, fear, and hunger pains until I fell asleep. Hunger makes a child grow up too quickly.
When my parents’ divorce finalized, I went to live with my grandparents. Things were good until my grandfather was forced into retirement. Our electricity got turned off for non-payment. Grandma didn’t can or grow food, so no money, no food. When it was a choice of being homeless or hungry, hunger seemed the lesser of two evils. My grandparents would try to distract me from being hungry. I was told tomorrow we’ll go shopping. Then I was sent out to play.
By the fourth grade I would worry whether we would have lights, water, a home, or food on a daily basis. Hunger is a nagging physical pain that results in muscle cramps and nausea. My grandmother was resourceful – she could make a loaf of bread last two weeks by cutting each slice in half. Same thing for two packets of hot chocolate. I was lucky to get a half spoon of the hot cocoa mix in a coffee mug of water and a half-slice of bread before bed.
Family members would offer to take us out to eat but Grandma’s vanity and pride prevented that from happening. It was always the same thing, “Thank you. We’re good. We just ate.” I still do not know if she was trying to keep social services at bay, keep up appearances, or thought that no one could see we had it rough. I knew enough back then to know that everyone needs to eat. And if you do not speak up you still have an empty belly. If I wasn’t sharing my classmates’ meals, I was hiding them in a bag so that I had something for the next day.
I still cook more than two people could eat in one sitting. When my kids came along, I made certain they had meals and snacks. I’ve received federal benefits before and there’s no shame in asking for help. I worked three jobs just so there was food in the house.
In my life so far, I’ve bought countless meals for complete strangers. All it takes is to hear “I’m hungry.” I’ve fed runaways and the homeless because I could. I’ve gifted food baskets to neighbors who thought no one knew. I started carrying around cards for food banks and handing them out. If just one person is helped, then it’s worth everything. I ask my neighbors, their kids, coworkers – did you eat today? Can you use extra cans of corn, beans, or fruit?
To the donors of the Food Bank – you have my deepest respect for fighting hunger. By bringing attention to this epidemic you inspire others to break their silence, let go of pride, anger, and depression to get the help they need and deserve. You are supporting the mission of the Food Bank: No One Goes Hungry. Somewhere a child is not worried about eating because of you! A man or woman is feeling validated and appreciated, not forgotten and worthless!
To help NC neighbors like Denise, visit foodbankcenc.org/donate