RENEE ORDWAY

Be angry at the welfare cheats, but have compassion for those who are hungry

Posted Sept. 16, 2011, at 5:31 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 16, 2011, at 6:13 p.m.
Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

Most of us certainly know what it is to feel hungry.

The growl of an empty stomach can be distracting.

Many of us may feel it because a busy schedule and poor planning have resulted in the loss of a lunch hour or perhaps breakfast. It is a temporary ache that we rectify as quickly as possible.

On Wednesday, the Good Shepherd Food-Bank is asking that you let that ache linger just a little longer — really get a taste of it.

September is Hunger Action Month, and to wrap up a month’s worth of activities, the state’s largest food bank is asking people to skip just one meal on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and to consider donating the cost of that missed meal to a food bank or cupboard.

Call it food insecurity or food-challenged, if you like. I call it being hungry or at risk of being hungry.

The Department of Agriculture released a report this week that 17 million households in the U.S. are at risk of going hungry and 6.4 million were at great risk with eating patterns significantly disrupted.

Maine ranks sixth in the nation in terms of the number of households with “very low food security,” according to Melissa Huston, development associate at Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

There are many among us — many who are working one, two or even three jobs — who are seeking help from food cupboards and pantries. Many who never thought they would be showing up at the back door of churches and food kitchens seeking that help.

At a time when the number of people going hungry or at risk of going hungry is hovering at near record levels, anger at state and federal welfare systems is mounting.

At a time when those running food banks and cupboards and shelters are begging for help, people — potential donors — are raging about those who cheat the system.

And certainly people do. Certainly there are people receiving food stamps that could and should be working. Certainly there are people dumping bottled water into parking lots to return the bottles for cash to buy cigarettes or alcohol.

Certainly neither the state nor the federal government has figured out a welfare system that is cheatproof.

Certainly we have the right to rage against those cheaters.

The problem is that while we rage and while we have the right to that rage, hardworking, good and moral people and children are hungry and need help.

How do we reconcile our anger at the young healthy couple dumping out bottles of water in the parking lot at Shaw’s against the Bangor-area youngster who told his teacher just the other day that he wished he could go to school all day?

Since the student had difficulty sitting still during normal school hours, the teacher expressed surprise, saying that she didn’t realize the boy liked school that much.

“I don’t,” he answered, “But if I was in school all day, then I would get supper, too.”

There are mothers and fathers skipping meals in an attempt to provide more food for their children. There are elderly men and women who make choices each day between food and medicine.

Forty-three percent of the people in Maine who are hungry or at risk of being hungry do not qualify for food stamps.

Those people are among those who showed up last year for just a small portion of the 12 million pounds of food that was distributed by the Good Shepherd Food-Bank to its 600 partner agencies.

“The majority of the people who come for help are holding one if not two jobs,” said Huston. “Most people in Maine live pretty close to the edge. It doesn’t take much to tap them over it, and food insecurity is growing and it’s creeping higher and higher into the middle class.”

You can go to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank and sign a pledge that you will skip just one meal on Sept. 28 and live for just a short time with that ache in your gut.

Hunger in Maine is a symptom of many problems, but there are ways you can take action and help. Take the time to visit the Good Shepherd Food-Bank website at www.gsfb.org and pledge to “Skip a Meal — Feed a Neighbor.” Because, even if you’re angry at the cheaters, the water dumpers and the scammers, certainly there has to be some room for compassion for those among us who truly and desperately need the help.

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