When I went to my grandmother’s when I was a child, I always smelled something simmering on the stove. His kitchen was my favorite restaurant.
Before you could get comfortable, however, she was still asking the same question:
“Have you eaten?”
She had grown up in poverty in Mississippi and lived with the presence of hunger in her family and community. She didn’t want her grandchildren to feel this pain.
Food shortages became more common during the pandemic. More and more people have faced the shame that hunger can create. This Thanksgiving, I wonder if we can do more to do “Did you eat?” an expression of care and concern, not judgment.
My grandmother asked this question with love.
“One of the most powerful things we can do is make it okay to ask for help,” said Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland. “It shows trust in your community when you do this, and I think talking about it with your friends, family and neighbors helps open that conversation. Sometimes it’s just about connecting someone or offer resources. “
It all happened so fast for Sheyla Crawford, from Brazil, and Aaron Crawford, from California, last year as COVID-19 had a direct impact on their families.
A medical intervention limited Sheyla’s mobility and interrupted her work at a daycare. Then Aaron lost his job, a victim of budget cuts in the pandemic.
There were medical bills and costs associated with raising three children.
A leak in the Apple Valley family’s financial tap had turned into a deluge. They knew they needed help. They turned to a local food shelf.
“It’s very deep and it’s very emotional for me because I come from a third world country,” Sheyla said. “You see kids on the streets asking for a shift to get whatever they can get, so it was a very sad reality that we lived in, and being able to be here in a country where you have access to help, someone who can come see us and say, “We can help you” is a lot. It’s so great to have and I’m always grateful for the help. “
The pandemic has changed the face of hunger – at least the face that exists in our stereotypes. Crawfords are a new standard in America: People who haven’t needed help before are turning to food shelves and other outlets to fill their refrigerators.
According to a Star Tribune article last week, Minnesota’s food shelves are expected to end this year with 3.7 million visits, just short of last year’s record 3.8 million. Hunger is closer than maybe many of us imagined before all this. It is in our families and our social circles. It’s in the booth next to us at work. It’s at our neighbor’s. And he is silent.
We can’t see it.
Aaron Crawford could smell it, however.
He and Sheyla met on a bus trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. He saw her engaged in a conversation with another person and during a brief stop in the trip, he changed seats to be closer to her.
They got married a few months later.
When they first asked a food shelf for help last year, Aaron refused to go. He was proud and had never had to ask for help.
“I struggled with that,” said Aaron, a Navy veteran. ” I was embarrassed. I was like, “Oh, my lord, I’m getting to this point. What the hell is going on in my life? “I just felt like I couldn’t crawl back up.”
I wonder if there are people in my world, in my life, who might not feel comfortable discussing their needs. I wonder if I am doing enough to minimize this shame that so many families facing food shortage might be feeling right now.
At my youngest daughter’s school there is a food shelf every week. I have seen this line grow over the past year or so. It’s diverse. There are people in used cars and people in newer cars. There are people walking around with shopping carts and there are families patiently waiting for the employees to load their vehicles.
Sheyla was also sitting in those lines. And they gave his family a lifeline.
Over the next year, life improved for the Crawfords. She built up hours at her babysitting job and Aaron got a job with UPS. They are not where they were, but they are moving forward.
“We are moving forward,” Aaron said. “We’re going to the food shelf to help that little extra. Hopefully, six months to a year, we can be in our own house and start saving more money instead of renting everything out. We can have something that is our own and we may not even have to go to the food department anymore. We will be volunteering and giving back what they gave us. “
This Thanksgiving, many of us will be enjoying an endless menu. We won’t have to think much about hunger.
On Friday and the following days, however, many will return to the same challenges they faced over the past year.
It is then that I will remember my grandmother’s words of love.
“Have you eaten?” might help someone in our life more than we realize.
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