Friday, May 11, 2012
The Faces Of Hunger: Scenes From A Church Dinner
The one-two punch of poverty and hunger often results in strange, neo-Orwellian terminology...such as a monthly Saturday "community dinner" that one of our local churches hosts at 11:30 a.m. As far as The Reckoner is cnocerned, that's lunch, under any other name. By popular consensus, we generally don't worry about eating dinner until six o'clock or thereabouts, right?
At any rate, this particular dinner comes without strings attached. You won't have to listen to a moral lecture, before being getting to take your plate. You don't have to fill out a signup sheet, or leave any other official vapor trail -- unlike most food pantries, which must do the paperwork tapdance to satisfy whatever federal agency may be assisting them.
No, this event is simple and to the point: no charge, open to all comers...just line up and fill your plate: take seconds, if you like, even. The Squawker and myself have eaten here twice, when the emptying of our refrigerator -- coupled with an equally depleted wallet -- left no other choice.
And the food is decent -- again, served without fuss or frills, but a notch above most of the local pantries. The first time, we got ham slices as the featured item; this time, it was Sloppy Joes. Again, such things may not be your first choice, but when your stomach (and wallet) are growling, you're unlikely to feel terribly picky.
Evidently, word has traveled fast, because only a couple weeks ago, Dinner #2 was packed to the rafters -- looking around the church's large circular meeting room, The Squawker and myself estimated that 60 people turned out, or roughly 20 more than the first dinner we attended. Had we arrived a few minutes later than we did (at 11:45 a.m.), it's quite possible that we wouldn't gotten a seat.
Glancing around the room, however, I was struck by the types of people that we observed -- a roughly 60-40 split between African-Americans and older whites (aged 45-60), respectively. We're still in our lower to mid-40s, so the Squaker and myself were easily the youngest people here, though we also spotted quite a few people with disabilities, as well.
As we took our plates -- and seats -- one other thought struck me. I only recognized one face in the room, and that was a fiftysomething African-American woman whom I'd interviewed recently at a health fair. Otherwise, all these people were strangers to us; we certainly didn't recall seeing them around town.
Where did these people come from? Obviously, they didn't feel that any better options existed, or they wouldn't have shown up, right? A million thoughts flooded our heads. Would we find ourselves in this tight spot again next month, and how many of these faces would we see again? What kinds of stories might we hear?
These people aren't abstractions. They're the faces of hunger in every community -- somebody's loved one, neighbor or friend, yet sorely lacking the gravitational pull that automatically accompanies large corporate donations to your favorite Tweedledee or Tweedledum running for office...
...in short, these are the people whose faces are totally forgotten and ignored by the Washington, D.C. power structure. If we make it out again...we'll see what happens at next month's dinner. --The Reckoner