Be a Hero in a Small Way…….
The sun is shining brightly and the warm spring air blows through the car windows. I drop off my two school agers at school, and head to work with my infant and two year old in tow. Work is running a daycare center, where we serve 30 kids. 28 of them, either on child care assistance programs from a low income home, or in protective child care. When they are here, they are safe, well fed, practice self-care and good hygiene, and participate in “normal” kid stuff. They smile, giggle and play games, as they don’t know that they are poor or even neglected.
The center struggled every day to make ends meet to pay everyone’s salaries, keep paper and paint in the supply closet and groceries on the table. State assistance income doesn’t pay even close to what it takes to operate a child care center. We rely on grants, and the Federal Food Program to reimburse us for the meals and snacks we provide. We also heavily rely on the food pantry, to provide groceries at a hugely discounted rate.
Some parents openly admit they did not feed their kids the night before. Why? Some parents struggle because of poor choices, addiction or poverty. But most of them are working adults with two parents in the home, struggling to keep the lights on, and even with an EBT card, can’t make it through the month with enough food. They depend on us, keeping their kids in daycare from the minute we open, until the second we close, to make sure their kids are fed three meals and three snacks before going home to sleep for the night. At that point in their lives, it’s the only way to be sure the kids are getting everything they need. Neglect you say? No. I’d rather work a few more hours, then send a child home hungry and knowing full well that child won’t eat again, until I see his gleaming face in the morning.
Social work and education became a huge part of my job. Not just managing budgets, state regulations and schedules, but making sure that everyone had a shower when they went home, brushed their teeth, clean clothes to wear, shoes on their feet. Not to mention full bellies. Helping parents find housing while facing eviction became weekly processes.
You ask, “Did you live in an impoverished area?” No. At the time, we lived in a very well established suburb. Nice, well-kept houses, condos and businesses line the streets. These things happen behind closed doors, right next door to houses that cost more than 1 million dollars. What you don’t see, is that million dollar house is in foreclosure, the owners are a month away from having their nice suburban repossessed and the kids are barely eating. To spare their dignity, they say nothing, until it’s too late.
Eventually, decisions I made to care for everyone else’s children affected my own children, and I opted to try another route. I sold my center, but wondered, “What will happen to these kids without me?” I am now fighting hunger and poverty in a different way, as an Americorps VISTA Volunteer with the Iowa Food Bank Association.
Now, I can put my skills to work, pushing our state’s legislators to keep funding SNAP Programs, local food banks and energy assistance programs. Take notice. Take notice of the kids in your classroom, church or even at the park. Take a moment to truly see their face, and how they tackle their day. Can you help them? Can you help their parents? Take a moment to be someone’s hero, even if it’s in a small way.
Americorps VISTA, Amy Rogalla