We are all guilty of it. I can hear myself saying it, "I'm starving." or just, "I'm so hungry." The reality is just the opposite. I have never been hungry or starving in my life. But we are so conditioned to have food on demand that when we go ten minutes without it, we are starving.
But I am not going to say that anymore. This week when I was delivering groceries, my last delivery was to 82- year-old Mrs. G. I had an extra bag of produce and I asked her if she could use it. When she opened her refrigerator to put it away, I was stunned. There were four items in the fridge. A small bowl covered with tinfoil, a bottle of water, some ketchup and a nearly empty jar of pickle relish. That's all. That is all.
When I came home I looked in my fridge. Every single available space was full. I didn't even have room to put my leftover lunch in. There was fruit and veggies, jam and jelly, pickles and marinades and cheese and lunchmeat, condiments galore, water, tea and even a couple of beers and so much more.
I stood looking at my overflowing fridge and I couldn't stop thinking about Mrs. G and her fridge. She is 82 years old. She has no family, and lives with her two dogs and one cat and pays more than half of her income in rent. The last time I saw her, when I asked if there was anything she needed, she asked me to sit and talk with her for a bit, all the while that fridge was sitting there empty. She never said a word.
On this day, I made her my last stop so I could sit and visit a bit. We talked about the weather, the news, she asked me about my day, we talked about her furry companions and her family and still, on this visit, she never mentioned that empty fridge, which I could not get out of my mind.
I have never been hungry and I have surely never been starving. I have been through tough times but I always had something to eat. It might have been a can of spam, but it was food, sustenance. And other than the day my fridge was delivered, it has never been as empty as Mrs. G's fridge was.
When we think about who is hungry in America, Mrs. G is not who we picture in our minds. She worked hard all of her life, did everything she was supposed to do, but living on social security and a small retirement from her job in a county where low-income housing is at best hard to find and at worst, nearly non-existent, most of Mrs. G's income goes to housing expenses. Food is secondary.
Let me say that again. For a senior citizen in American struggling to live on social security income, food is secondary.
How can that be? How can we be the country that we are and have 4,103 Mrs. G's living in our community with an empty fridge? How can we not be better than this? How can our parents and grandparents be going to bed hungry, really hungry? If the numbers were 10 or even 100, some folks might be able to attribute the empty fridge to bad life choices, but the number is 4,103 in our county and 2.3 million nationwide. This isn't about any one person making poor life choices, this is on all of us. This kind of systemic poverty is a shared responsibility of our society.
I don't have the answer. Pie in the Sky does what we can do, as do others in our community. This week alone, 9 volunteers delivered more than 1700 pounds of food to 159 seniors in all four corners of our county. This time last year we were delivering to 62 seniors. We are doing our best to reach as many as we can and it matters a lot to those we do reach. But even still, I am left with the burning image of the empty fridge, so stark and barren and yet Mrs. G. never said a word.
At the end of our visit, she hugged me tightly and thanked me for the food and for spending time with her. Usually I end my day feeling like we have made a difference, but on this day, all I could think about was that empty fridge.
We have to do better. We must do better.