One Saturday, when I was stationed at the door to greet people, two teenage boys strolled up slowly. I couldn’t put myself in their shoes, or imagine the food insecurity they were facing. I asked if they were here to get a bag of groceries, and they nodded, so I directed them to a table to sign in. They walked through the line to pick up their bags of food, and as they walked out I heard the younger boy yell to the older one, “Dude, we got Doritos!” A food as simple as a bag of chips meant so much to him, whereas I might not think to appreciate little things like this. This experience with the boys was very humanizing for me. It was a powerful moment to see the emphasis food and the lack of it has on our lives.
Los Angeles has been called the epicenter of hunger. One in six people living in Los Angeles County are food insecure and almost 25 percent of them is under the age of 18. When a person doesn’t know how he or she will provide for his or her next meal and has limited availability of nutritionally adequate foods, he or she can be classified as food insecure.
To address this issue, food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens and meal programs have sprung up in the greater Los Angeles area. I volunteer at a local food pantry, Hope Net, where we distribute bags of groceries to families and seniors in the neighborhood. Almost 59 percent of households picking up food at a food bank report that at least one person in the family is employed, which means the people standing in line are often the working poor. They also report it’s easier to skip a meal than it is to skip medication or paying the rent or your bills.
The neighborhood gathers on Saturday mornings to get in line to pick up bags of groceries. Each member of the community must sign in with his or her name and address, noting how many people are in his or her family. The bags they receive are filled with different kinds of food because the food Hope Net distributes is based on donations, including Marlborough’s Food of the Month collection and the food the Marlborough’s athletic department collects several times a year at its sports banquets.
I have volunteered at Hope Net Food Pantry for six years. My favorite jobs are assisting people when they sign in and passing out bags of food. When homeless people sign in, they fill in their address as the street or neighborhood where they stay since they don’t have a permanent address. Some people coming through the line do not know how to write, so they hand you a slip of paper with their information written down by someone else or mark an “X” for their signature.
Although standing at the door greeting people may seem random, there is a reason I like doing this. This simple act allows the most personal interaction between volunteer and neighbor by greeting people with a good morning or asking to see their hand in order to mark them to show they have come through the line. You lose any sense of “us” and “them,” socioeconomic class or appearance when saying hello to people in line.
We need to examine hunger and create a policy that addresses it. Volunteer your time at a local food bank for a couple hours over the weekend. Donate to or run a food drive and email your local city council member or member of Congress to visit a food bank, reminding them what a huge problem hunger is. Feeding hungry people is a start, but understanding the reasons people stand in line week after week often has to do with salaries that don’t stretch far enough to cover the basics or the fact that many people end up living on the streets or that some need to choose between paying for medication, bills or rent. Hunger is an issue that’s not going away on its own. Let’s make it a priority to address hunger so that no one goes hungry in our city.