Recently, I was asked to help serve dinner at a local shelter that provides meals and a place to stay at night for those without a home. It was a last minute request but I immediately said “yes”. I joined a small crew of other volunteers in the kitchen of a local Church. There were five of us. A husband and wife team were preparing a large basic salad of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. We were expecting to feed approximately sixty people and I worried whether we would have enough food. The irony wasn’t lost on me as I realized that the people we’d be feeding must ask themselves the same question every day. Two other volunteers had each prepared a large casserole tray comprised of chicken for protein, root vegetables, creamy soup to form a sauce and add taste. Pasta stretched the meal to feed as many as possible. Only two of us headed to the shelter where we would meet a third volunteer. The first task was to set the diner style tables, each able to seat 4 people. We laid down the paper napkins and covered them with a 3 piece setting of plastic utensils. A holiday touch of chocolate biscotti wrapped with a paper band sporting a turkey, was placed beside the cutlery. The three of us worked in tandem. One person ensured the food was hot enough to warm the night chill out of the bones of our “guests”. She also plated the food. Two of us took the role of wait staff. We served 3 shifts of 20 diners. With each plate I presented I was thanked. When a request was made for an additional slice of bread it was asked without expectation but with hope. The biscotti brought smiles to weary faces. Many saved the treat, perhaps to savor later or because they did not know when the next meal would come.
You may wonder what this has to do with travel. My answer is “nothing” but yet, “everything”. Hunger is not unique to certain areas. Indeed, I have seen hunger around the world. Guilt creeps in knowing that I make an effort to control what I eat while others must ration the gift of someone’s left over food. It troubles me when I see food being tossed in the garbage knowing someone will likely pull it out to feed themselves or their family. Being able to travel is a privilege. Being able to have regular food shouldn’t be. Food insecurity is not unique to the United States, it’s universal. Unfortunately, it may be one of the issues that most nations have in common.
The problem is much closer to home than you might want to believe. Dutchess County is rated as one of the top ten counties in New York State. Yet locally, many go to bed hungry. It’s called food insecurity. Far too many face a daily challenge of providing themselves with sustenance until the next meal is secured. There’s a saying that you might find familiar “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Unfortunately, some people are in a position where they can’t learn to “fish” or worse, they’ve given up trying. I still carry regret about an incident in Grand Central Station. My train wasn’t due to leave for 30 minutes and I purchased dinner from a food stall. I had eaten about half of my meal and wrapped the leftovers to bring home. A young man approached me and asked “excuse me, are you going to finish that?” I replied “yes” and he wished me a good day. It didn’t occur to me that he might be hungry. Shame washes over me when I think about how humbled or desperate a person must have been to ask me for my leftover dinner and I refused. Surely I wouldn’t have suffered from missing a meal but it likely had been a while since he had eaten.
As the holidays approach this can often be a season of “want“: I want a big screen plasma television, I want a new Iphone, but for many, the needs are simpler. I want my stomach to stop hurting from hunger. I want a coat to keep me warm as I search for a place to spend the night. I want to feel safe when I close my eyes. I want to know that someone, somewhere cares about me. Feeding America.org states on its website that in 2015 “42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children.” That number represents 15.8 million households or 13% of all households countrywide. One local deejay has been extremely successful at filling the coffers of the local food bank for more than a decade. Mark Bolger’s original food drive project, was created during his previous job at another radio station. Today, Suff the Bus continues under the helpful direction of the Iheart media team.
This year they were successful in collecting 12,000 pounds of food and $10,000.00 in cash, surely a testament to the worthiness of the cause. Mr. Bolger further supported the effort in his current position on Mix 97.7 when he created Jam the Van. If success can be measured in tractor trailers, the radio station was doubly successful having filled two with food donations. Jam the Van also raised approximately $18,000. According to their broadcasts each dollar raised equates to $10.00 worth of food. I say “Bravo” and well done! $180,000.00 will now be available to Hudson Valley residents needing a helping hand. I’m not rich but if I can manage to feed stray animals I reasoned that I sure as heck can find the means to help feed my fellow humans. One request from a friend asking me to help at a homeless shelter provided the opportunity. In this season of plenty I urge you to remember those who have very little. Please do your best to look past the reason and instead search for a solution. Taking my own advice I approached the venture with the intention to not presume or to judge. I didn’t need to know why someone didn’t have a job or a home or a family who cared about them. I wasn’t looking to lay blame or fault and I sure as heck know that I’m not going to solve the hunger problem even in Dutchess County. But, I do know that, much like the starfish tale, that night at the shelter, my efforts made a difference for someone.