“It’s the hap-happiest season of all, With those holiday greetings, And gay happy meetings when friends come to call” – Andy Williams
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s all about the food—the stuffed mushrooms, the turkey, the stuffing, the wine, and the pie. Pie. Pie. Pie. We gather with friends in Weston, so there’s no family politics for us.
This is also the time of year that when it is clear that not everyone is able to participate in these celebrations. Missed meals lead to more than hunger—they lead to missed connections and missed memories.
I know from experience. When I was little, there were days without one meal or another. It’s hard to concentrate in school when you are hungry. You end up thinking more about the next time you will eat than about the subject being taught. No contributions to class parties, which you hope no one else will notice. And, having friends over was never an option.
Not having enough to eat when we were little kids was embarrassing for my sister, for my brother and for me. It felt bad physically and emotionally. We could not always count on our parents, so we did what we had to do.
- We set up a credit account with the grocery store at the top of the hill near our house. We told them our parents would pay later. My sister told tell me years later that the staff at the store often gave her free food. A bag of groceries is magical to a hungry kid.
- We went to restaurants with a couple of dollars in our pocket and ordered what we could. Sometimes, it was mashed potatoes and gravy or mac and cheese. Anything warm and filling. The waitresses often gave us “the evil eye” likely wondering why an 8-year old and a 6-year old were ordering dinner alone. We held our heads up and ordered our side dishes. Other times, it was a submarine sandwich that we shared, no chips.
- We walked to where the food was. One day, our mom left us to go to work and all that we saw in the pantry were glass jars of tomatoes. Not a single other edible thing. So, my brother, sister, and I walked two and a half miles to the convenience store where she was working. We were 8-, 6- and 3- years old. I remember eating a turkey and gravy microwavable meal. It was fantastic.
That resourcefulness and ferocity has stayed with us.
But, our story is not special. In South Florida alone, more that 250,000 kids go to bed hungry each night. Hunger Hurts.
Together, there is a lot we can do about that.
- Volunteer at Feeding South Florida: My family volunteers frequently and the shifts always begin with a training session. The volunteer coordinator, Ruth, shares information about how to deal with expiration dates as we sort food. One of the most striking parts of her presentation is when she holds up a Frosted Flakes box featuring Tony the Tiger. She asks all of the assembled volunteers to raise our hands if we would want to eat frosted flakes for dinner. A few little kids invariably raise their hands, delighting in the concept of sugary cereal for dinner. Ruth goes on to tell us that nearly 750,000 people in South Florida are hungry and have no idea where their next meal will come from. Again, Ruth asks how many of us would eat Frosted Flakes for dinner, if we found ourselves in that situation. Nearly every hand is raised. Feeding South Florida will benefit from your volunteer time and your cash donations.
- Hold a food drive for United Way’s Community Cupboard. When I worked at United Way, my proudest achievement was launching the volunteer engagement team. Because of my history, establishing the Community Cupboard food pantry meant the most. We started the pantry to serve the families of United Way’s early education center. The Cupboard made sense to us after we surveyed the 150 parents from the school. We asked if they ever ran out of food before the end of the month. They did. We asked if they lived near a grocery store with fruits and vegetables. They did not. We asked if would benefit from help ensuring they had enough food to get through the month. They would. Today, that work continues and families are able to shop the Cupboard for non-perishable foods each week. Receiving tuna, pasta, tomato sauce, and other pantry staples helps a family make room in a budget for fresh foods. Being able to select one’s own groceries provides the dignity and the personal agency that receiving a donation simply cannot offer. The United Way team welcomes your food drives to replenish the Cupboard and your time to keep the space organized.
- Check in with your colleagues. You simply never know if your colleagues need help with food unless you ask. Whether it’s a discreet inquiry from HR to all staff members or a company-wide policy that everyone receives a Publix gift card for Thanksgiving or at some regular interval, this small act will make all the difference in the world to someone who wonders how to feed themselves or their family.
I have no lens but my own through which to look at food, at hunger, at food-centric celebrations, or at canned tomatoes. As my kids and I sort food at Feeding South Florida, I’m glad they have such a hands-on way to help tackle the problem of hunger. Like my family, my sister and my nephew volunteer at their local food pantry. They are “packers” and crafts boxes for recipient families with great care.
From Easter dinners for colleagues that could not get home to their families to Gingerbread house decorating parties for my daughter, food-centric celebrations are now a source of joy. And, I have always loved the way Junior League evening volunteer meetings feature a dinner prepared by one of the attendees. Food fuels not only our bodies, but our relationships, too.
Today, my sister and I are both able to nourish our families, and our kids have absolutely no personal experience with hunger. We love the grocery store, able to buy what we need and what we want. At Subway, we always order a bag of chips. At home, the pantry shelves are stocked and we have a ceramic dish filled with fruit. The miracle of that does not escape me.
Admittedly, I am highly annoyed by my kids’ dislike for leftovers and they are highly annoyed with me when I admonish them for wasting food. In other words, they have a completely normal relationship with food and have no idea how lucky they are. I am most grateful for that this Thanksgiving.