A Reminder for Engagement
We sit in a finely furnished room, all in comfortable chairs, around a wooden table. Dressed in business attire, we position ourselves in a relatively comfortable way, a way that jointly exhibits our determination and professionalism. It is when we begin sharing stories, though, that the most vital characteristic we share surfaces: compassion.
As I observe most of the lobby visit we are having, I take notes on key points. There was one statement that reached me like a punch to the stomach, made by a congressional staffer. She said: “I can’t imagine that.” That is in part a caring statement, but is also actually part of the problem. The lack of knowledge of what it is like to live in poverty, to go hungry, is something that should be used not as a way to sadly mention pain and move on, but as a hint at the necessity of mobilization.
I kept this feeling with me, and allowed it to drive me in researching the many issues impacting child hunger. I learned more about programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and about what life is like living with SNAP. One way that advocates and politicians have spread awareness of SNAP is through a program called the “SNAP Challenge” or the “Food Stamp Challenge.” The object of this program is to help people, including ‘average’ citizens, faith leaders, and policy makers, fully understand what it is like to live on a SNAP budget ($40 a week per person). Most of us cannot imagine a day, let alone a month, eating on $1.50 per meal.
Children are in a unique situation in the hunger crisis, in that the younger they are, the more likely they are heavily dependent. Programs like SNAP help children, but only to an extent. School lunch programs help children eat too, but schools cannot provide all the food children need in a day. This food insecurity can negatively affect a child’s development, both in brain development and academic performance. 90% of SNAP benefits are used up before the fourth week of the month, and food banks are sought out by many who live on food assistance programs. When 15,898,000 American children go hungry every day, you would think that something more would be done to combat that hunger. We might hope for more help for these children, but say, “there’s barely a thing we can do.”
If we limit ourselves that way, there is barely a thing we can do. When we take the time to imagine – the pain or the possibilities – we begin our engagement in progress. From this beginning, we can join together, and mobilize to action. Every stomach need not be hungry to reach this change, but every heart must be hungry for this change to come. Every heart is prepared for this challenge, but, are we willing to together fill the void? I am willing, and I will imagine. Will you imagine with me?
Leah Rose Staffin is a rising senior at Brandeis University. She is majoring in Social Justice Studies and Education Studies. She is from Teaneck, New Jersey, and attended Temple Emeth in Teaneck. As a Machon Kaplan participant, Leah is interning at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) this summer.