Hunger Takes Prisoners
Yesterday, SNAP Outreach Worker, Amy Costliow, took time to reflect on hunger’s ability to take prisoners. On Independence Day, take a moment to read her thoughts, reflect on your freedom from hunger and consider those who are less fortunate.
On this hot 3rd day of July I find myself sitting outside a food pantry in North Liberty, Iowa. That’s right, outside. I’m set up at a table talking to families about the SNAP as they come to the pantry. This time of year is especially difficult as hungry Iowans must decide between turning on the A/C to escape the heat or pay for food. Hopefully the assistance they receive today will let them have the opportunity to not worry about where their next meal will come from.
Today is already memorable for me! Not only because it’s hot or because tomorrow is the 4th of July, but because of a lesson I learned this morning. Hunger is frustrating. Hunger makes people mad. Hunger changes people. I’ve known hunger is a real issue that over 400,000 people in Iowa fight every day, but today, July 3, 2012, is the first day hunger caused someone to get frustrated with me. Today hunger caused someone to be angry with me. Today hunger changed me. Today I realized hunger takes prisoners.
Working through an application for SNAP benefits takes about 10 minutes. Now, that might not seem long, but it’s basically 10 minutes packed with questions about how much money you make, decisions you’ve made in the past (criminal history, etc.) and your expenses – basically it’s a lot to think about on a hot summer day. During that 10 minute application today Jan* began to get frustrated with me. “Why the heck would you think I would have done that?” and then “Why would I need that assistance?” I could tell Jan was frustrated, it was obvious. Hunger had frustrated Jan. Hunger made Jan angry. Hunger took Jan as a prisoner. That’s when hunger changed me.
I stopped with the application. I looked at Jan and said, “I know there are a lot of questions. I’m sorry. I don’t like them either, but we’re almost done. Let’s just get through this together.” Instantly, Jan changed. She said ok and started joking with me about the weather. She shared how she had been disabled since she was a child and dealt with pain in her legs every day. Jan is a human with real emotions. Jan gets frustrated with lots of questions just like I do, and she wants to feel like someone understands and hears her story. Jan wants to know she is more than what hunger makes her feel. Jan wants to know that she is free.
Today, July, 3, 2012, hunger changed me. Today I realized hunger puts people in circumstances that are unimaginable. Hunger makes people act in a way they might not be proud of. Hunger exacerbates all emotions. I get frustrated waiting in line at the grocery store. Why would I expect someone waiting in line at a food pantry to not feel the same emotions – if not more so? They are hungry. They are trapped. They don’t feel in control. They are not free from the restraints of hunger.
When I pack up and leave this pantry today I’m going to be able to start thinking about the great barbeque I’ll have tomorrow to celebrate living in the land of the free. Tomorrow when you are celebrating your freedom I hope you’ll remember those who aren’t free from hunger and maybe you’ll find time to take action and give some of that freedom back!
Amy is an amazing voice for the hungry in Iowa. She enjoys her freedom to be a voice for the hungry, and to speak out about a society that has winners and losers. We live in a wonderful country. We have the right to political and religious freedom, and have the freedom to speak out against our government. Often the hungry miss out on many of these freedoms because they are too focused on finding their next meal, or working three jobs to try to keep food on the table, or battling age and illness. Amy not only helps to provide them freedom from the restraints of hunger, she works to give them back their freedom of speech by being their voice. I challenge you to do the same! Today we honor those who have fought to make our country great. We look to our elected officials to lead our country in the right direction. However, don’t forget that we are all active members of this free country. We can’t all be soldiers, and we certainly can’t all be elected, but we can give those who are silent a voice. We can provide people with the chance to live the America dream. We can give the marginalized and downtrodden a voice, and help them break the chains of hunger.