Growing up hungry & cold leaves a lifelong ache in your heart. As a child, you have no idea why you are always hungry. Other kids aren’t. They look healthy, happy, bigger than the five of us. Those other kids have socks, warm coats, gloves and warm clean homes to go to. But we didn’t even mind that.
We sorrowed that when we went home there was no hot chocolate, no cookies, no soup. So we stayed outside all day and even after the sky turned dark, cold and lonely. Yes, even in the snow, the rain, the wind, if we were playing, hiding, running, we could forget how hungry we were. We knew the frig was empty, the cabinets were bare. We were never allowed in the kitchen, just in case we stole a piece of stale white bread.
Growing up in a small town, as one of the few poor families scars you deeply. We try to ignore the whispers, the nasty stares, the ridicule. There were some very kind people who would share their meager resources with us. Mostly foreigners who had struggled to just survive in their countries and ours. We were always so thankful. We would do small chores for them, shovel their walks, clean up their yards, anything for 1/2 a cup of soup.
Elementary school was agonizing. We became aware of how different we were from other children. They had lunch boxes. Boxes full of healthily sandwiches, fruit, cookies, milk. We had one piece of bread with butter or cut up cucumbers. No milk, no meat, no cookies. The shame was unbearable for five little children. Dinner was a small bowl of rice with sugar & butter or noodles or potatoes with carrots on a good day. Never meat or eggs.
I remember a kind old cook who worked in a fancy restaurant in town. He always left the kitchen back door open to cool down the kitchen. He would see us picking through the garbage cans searching for food. The cook would pretend to drop a hamburger or pork chop on the floor after he cooked it and slip out side cut it into five pieces for us. Once he gave us a piece of banana cream pie to share. I thought we died and went to heaven. I remember kneeling down right there and thanking God for such a wonderful gift.
But God had nothing to do with it. It was the inequity of our society that allows poor children to starve.
Christmas was the one time of year we longed for. Not because we ever expected gifts. We all knew we would have a wonderful meal that day. The Marines always came with a huge decorated box full of fresh vegetables, potatoes, can foods, cookies, bread, peanut butter, a large box of cheese, butter, flour and a turkey! That week we ate ravenously. One week a year.
My older sister tried to make green onion stone soup. She was 8 yrs. old. As we grew up, she and two of my brothers learned to be friendly charming and made many friends. They often got invited to friends’ homes to play, stay for lunch or dinner. I was always sullen, angry, a loner. My younger brother was very withdrawn. We suffered from the lack of our social skills. We were skinny, poorly clothed and outsiders. He was afraid of and I hated most people. Defense mechanisms children should never have to develop.
We never forgot. Neither the cruelness or kindness of people in our community.
We all became “givers,” caretakers, care givers, volunteers. We teach, we nurse, we heal, we feed, we clothe the poor, elderly and the needy in our community. For 40 years now, I have been a nurse. My sister and I help raise money, food, clothing through organizations like Hunger Action Network, Home for the Dying, the O+Festival, Senior Citizen groups, People’s Place & the SPCA, to bring relief to the people and animals in need. My family is always there to help give money and support.
Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, we collect food, mittens, hats, coats, socks, blankets and money to lessen
the suffering of poor people. This year we raised $11,000, received over 80 large bags of food and cloths,
school/pet supplies and gifts.
Hunger Action Network of New York State advocates on behalf of those who face hunger, homelessness, lack of health care and poverty wages. They work on a State level to increase funding for the emergency feeding programs and to secure legislation that provides for affordable housing, universal health care, preventing wage theft and food waste and so much more. On a federal level they are fighting to protect WIC, SNAP, CNR Federal Nutrition – programs that feed the hungry children, women, the elderly and men in dire need.
My family and I work hard to help Hunger Action Network raise the necessary funds they need to keep doing
the extraordinary work they do. They are a force and we need them fighting for all of us to keep these programs
funded. And to pass legislation that lifts us out of poverty. We are honored to be of service to Hunger Action
Network of NYS.
This is who we have become, who we are, products of our childhood memories.