We think we know. We think we understand poverty. Most of us don’t.
Recently I have been trying to help a woman, about my age, who will, in all likelihood, experience tough times for the remainder of her life. She puts on as cheerful a face as she can. She loves God and young children.
Most of the time when she asks, if she asks at all, she asks for cookies to share with the children in her apartment block. Their parents, also living in poverty, trust the little woman in the end unit to love their kiddos too. Giving them a treat is her mission. They return a moment of joy.
Last week this woman I’ll call Grace, had her meager food stamp allowance cut from $110 a month to $21. Her doctors want her to eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to manage her diabetes. How much did you spend on fresh fruit and vegetables on your last trip to the grocery? Twenty-one dollars does not go far in a month. Trips to her church’s food bank and the kindness of friends and strangers help Grace get by: barely.
Today when I stopped by unexpectedly to drop off some cookies, dish soap, and toilet paper, I found her cleaning her refrigerator.
“I thought I might as well clean it while it was empty,” she said. Empty? The door held a few condiments and the interior shelves were indeed empty. There were no contents, moved out for the cleaning, on the table or counters. The freezer held five loaves of bread but there was nothing to put on it.
In the frying pan, on the stove, a couple of green peppers were being sautéed for breakfast. A friend had stopped in the day before and gave her a couple of small ones from their garden. Grace was grateful if not full.
This tiny woman’s life story makes mine look like a walk in the garden with Mary Poppins. We are far from wealthy, living on a fixed income ourselves, but it is nothing like this. We think we know but we don’t.
We see pictures on the television of children with bloated bellies and old men and women with sunken eyes and hopeless expressions from third world countries and we think we know. But today I saw all of them in my friend.
Grace could not hide her depression today. She is worried about a daughter in Texas as Hurricane Harvey’s destructive rampage is ending and all that remains is devastation. She doesn’t know where her daughter is. Offering prayers for the poor people in Texas, she laments the holiday season; still two months away. It is hard to look forward when as far as you can see there is just more of the same. Holidays considered the same as hurricanes.
As I pulled away from the complex, after many hugs and prayers, I thought of all the others who might be cleaning empty refrigerators today. Too many to count. When I arrived at our church, where I spend blissful hours writing a couple of days a week, our doors were open for our Food Bank. Pastor Jay reminded me that the poor will always be among us. The Bible says so.
The Bible also tells us to care for them.
Seeing Grace today made me want to run home and sell all my possessions and be Mother Theresa. But I know I won’t. I will continue to do what I can for this one precious soul, but it’s not enough.
We need to find a way to do better. It is incomprehensible that in one of the richest countries in the world we can’t get this right. I care about world poverty and hunger, I do. However, I just don’t think we can send a few bucks to an overseas mission and think we have done our share.
It can’t be just when some commercial plays on television or the local food banks have a food drive and individuals, with guilt now imposed upon them, share a pittance of what they enjoy. “Barely scratching the surface of this growing problem” is a gross understatement. If we are not doing something regularly, weekly as we fill our own grocery carts we aren’t doing enough. If we are not speaking out and demanding a better solution, how do we truly make a difference?
Tonight, I will drive home. I will pull into my driveway next to our big ol’ two story house and park next to my husband’s car, that is parked next to the truck. Walking in the house, I will put down my laptop, pet the dogs and begin to make dinner for the family. I will have the choice to set either the dining room or kitchen table with one of three sets of china and fresh linens or perhaps we will just pull up a TV tray and eat in front of our large television with too many channels.
I’m not sure I will be able to eat, but there will be food. There will most definitely be leftovers to put away, dishes to put in the dishwasher and dessert. What is a meal without dessert?
I will go home tonight. But not the same as I left this morning…I hope.