(This week’s post is about weekend hunger and the valiant efforts to eliminate it.)
“Hey lady, you here for the body?”
A bundled-up man outside a liquor store on Fulton Avenue asked me this yesterday as we were driving between story locations and navigating mid- afternoon traffic- traffic that had become snarled around a parked ambulance. No, the photographer and I weren’t there for the body, I said politely—realizing this query felt like a line out of a movie. It didn’t look like any other news crews were there for the body either, perhaps this individual suffered a natural demise. I am working on a different story about the body though -the body of a hungry child and the state of childhood hunger. That should suffer a demise as well.
On Friday, we spent a good part of the day at an elementary school in Baltimore county where half the children live in poverty. Seven families are homeless. A 10 am hot lunch was eaten heartily. It wasn’t too early to be eaten, the food seems to have come right on time. As I walked the school, with the kind of passionate principal you dream of having, I noticed a child’s essay for Martin Luther King Junior Day— hanging on a bulletin board and written in pencil with some heavily erased words that occasionally drifted and hovered over the lines.
Here it is: (misspellings not corrected)
I have a dream everyone has enogh food for there whole life. I would buy food for everyone. I would give some food. I would help raise money to buy food. That is how I’ll keep people from staving to death!
I stood there for a while and wondered if I had just seen the child who wrote this eating the 10 am lunch. This was a child with a big dream, one that read awfully personal.
It is estimated that one in 10 Maryland households struggles against food insecurity. That means they face limited or uncertain access to enough healthy food. People who are food insecure live everywhere, and in every jurisdiction in the state.
In Baltimore city, more than 100 schools serve three meals a day- breakfast, lunch and dinner. They prepare 10 thousand after-school meals daily. All the meals are free to students. When school is closed suddenly for weather or problems with heat, the food can be inaccessible. This is America, and these are not hunger games.
There are warriors – like Lynne Kahn of the Baltimore Hunger Project who, out of her garage, launched an effort to fill bellies. Now she runs an impressive all-volunteer operation that ensures food goes home on the weekends for children who may not eat otherwise. Her group serves 450 kids in 16 schools in Baltimore city and Baltimore county—but there are 1200 kids on a waiting list. Perhaps this is why Lynne tells me she doesn’t sleep.
I interviewed a mother of two yesterday who is struggling to keep her children fed and would be struggling, even more, were it not for Kahn’s organization. When this mother grew up her family adopted a family just like hers to help with meals and holidays. Now, this mother is in the same predicament. She spoke to me on camera, showing me her face, inviting me into her home. I kept asking her if she was okay with putting herself out there like this. She wanted people to know that help is available, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask for it. Her son, full of personality, just wanted to show me his floss dance and what he looked like hanging upside down on the couch. He was adorable.
I felt fortunate to meet them, but I hated leaving. It is an awful feeling to have someone share such intimate challenges and then you get in your car, crank up the heat and head to your next location. I hope when this story airs next month, you feel inspired to help organizations like the Baltimore Hunger Project, which are making a critical difference in the lives of all of our neighbors.
So, no, this lady wasn’t coming for the body—a question that seems so totally strange and yet so totally befitting. Though, I predict that may be another day’s story. For now, I am thinking of the upside-down boy as we attempt to turn this childhood hunger problem right side up and make sure, as the small child wrote, there is enogh food, for the whole life.