At Harvest Hope, every day we have conversations with people who cannot understand the new reality they find themselves in. The cannot understand how they lost control of their lives and why they need help with something as simple and basic as putting food on the table. Feeding our families is something we all take for granted. It is a basic need we all assume that we can fulfill on our own. It is so basic that others often cannot understand what would force someone else to ask for help for food. But is something we understand at Harvest Hope.
Recently, I had a conversation with a young man in his early 20’s, who could not understand why he had just been laid off. It is depressing for him because he really loved what he did and looked forward to work every day. He was certain he had a clear career path and would continue to do what he loved. But his certainty was shattered and he was left to wonder: why did this happen to me? His life was changed and changed quickly.
This is what has happened to so many in South Carolina. We are sixth in the nation for unemployment and our poverty rates are higher than the national average. The new faces of hunger belong to people who thought hunger would not happen to them.
These new faces appear every day at our Emergency Food Pantries and at the church pantries, soup kitchens, and overcrowded shelters run by our 400 member agencies. I personally have seen the faces at tent cities housing families with children who two years ago lived normal lives with working parents, living in homes of their own choosing and buying the groceries they wanted. The new faces of hunger are frequently people who once came to volunteer but now come to us for food. People who once donated food or money and now need our help to eat. On average we see them at Harvest Hope only three times. But we are seeing them during the worst period of their lives under the worst conditions they have ever experienced. Because of embarrassment and shame and a determination to do everything possible to care for themselves, they have stretched everything they could. But they have to eat. They have to feed their families.
I still see the long lines of people every morning waiting patiently for our Emergency Food Pantries to open. I still hear the agency representatives stopping at my door saying “Denise, what we are dealing with everyday is overwhelming”. I force a smile on my face, my hand goes up to pat them on the back or to give them a hug, but inwardly as they shake their heads in bewilderment, I must say: “I too am overwhelmed.” All of this touches home for me; probably for you too.
I’ve been at Harvest Hope for thirteen years and I’ve never seen this many people looking for work. Like the mom with a six year old who told me just last week: “Denise—the economy has destroyed my marriage. Even though I have a college degree, I am working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. I have learned to do with less, but we can’t do without food.” This mother does need us. Does she want to stand in line for food? Would you? Would you want to trade places with her – just for one day, one bitter and frustrating afternoon? Just to learn, just to feel the anxiety and uncertainty. Just to come to the same realization she did: there is no other choice right now.
Do I need any more proof that they need us? Absolutely not. It angers me sometimes, and perhaps I shouldn’t be so honest about it. But it angers me that anyone can question the harsh reality that forces good working families to our door. I see the despair on their faces, hear the tremor in their voices and know the uncertainty of their futures.
Whatever their reasons, whatever their story, whatever forces compel them to come to us for help: THEY NEED HELP AND WE ARE HERE TO HELP THEM!
The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.
~ Ecclesiastes 9:11
Faith is courage; it is creative while despair is always destructive.
~David S. Muzzey