December 11, 2013

"A Place at the Table" - A Documentary that is Changing My Life

One month ago I posted about how I was wondering what it would be like to have to live on food stamps as your sole source of food money. I asked you, my readers to help me by coming up with some scenarios. I will still be posting my ideas but – a lot has happened since then. I have been too busy – too busy in fact to put up my Christmas tree yet.

One day a neighbor from a block away came to my house and asked if I had a frozen chicken that he could have. I had a whole chicken and I gave it to him. Have you ever had a neighbor come to your home asking for food? How hard was that to do? Right after I posted that article, I came across a documentary on Netflix called “A Place at the Table.” I streamed it and watched it a couple of times.

This documentary came out in 2012. On Netflix it is described as follows “Using personal stories, this powerful documentary illuminates the plight of the 49 million Americans struggling with food insecurity. A single mother, a small-town policeman and a farmer are among those for whom putting food on the table is a daily battle.” This documentary is every enlightening and I am asking as many of my followers as possible to watch this.

If you don’t have Netflix, ask your public library to get this documentary. Why? You will be surprised at what you learn. This documentary dispels the myths about hunger and poverty that you may have. Also it describes terms such as “Food Deserts” where fresh fruits and vegetables are not available or the fact that someone living in an inner city setting has to take a bus to a grocery store that takes 2 hours round trip. It also tells the story of one minister trying to feed the people in his small community. One person is a police officer who now goes to the food pantry for food for his family. He hasn’t had a raise in 4 years and with the cost of food going up, his paycheck just doesn’t make it to the end of the month.

This documentary has some Hollywood backing in Jeff Bridges. He, along with his brother, Beau, have been talking about hunger in America for years. This documentary goes you historical background and also shows you what people are up against. For example, the single mom who finally gets a job, but her income is just a little bit too much and and she no longer qualifies for SNAP or child care assistance. She’s worse off working; then when she was on unemployment and assistance. Her food situation is dire. Stress from not being able to provide can make a person so sick. (No matter what you think about people on food assistance, always remember that the babies and children have no say in their parent’s choices for how they spend their SNAP funds.)

Something is wrong when we live in the greatest nation in the world and yet we have children living with little food. The other problem is health related. Living on high processed, high carbohydrate food means obesity and type 2 diabetes and other health problems. Fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive for many people. After I saw this documentary, I purchased a DVD that came out 15 years ago starring Beau Bridges as a widower with two children and his struggle with unemployment and feeding his two children. It is called “Hidden in America.” It portrays someone who wants to work and is actively looking for work and doesn’t want to be on assistance. He tries so hard, but in the end he has to go to apply for food assistance and goes to a food bank.  This is a gut wrenching story that sheds the light on hunger, especially with his kids.

Here is the problem: we don’t give our children adequate nutrition and they perform poorly in school. In our school district alone there are over 50% of the children on free lunches and breakfasts. However, the USDA guidelines leave nutrition to the side when it comes to the school meals. High fat, high carbohydrate food is on the menu. Heat and eat foods is what kids get more and more.

After viewing the documentary and film, I went ahead and purchased the participant’s book given the same name as the documentary, “A Place at the Table.” I have been reading it a chapter at a time each night. This book is a great companion to the documentary and it goes into detail where the documentary can’t. Why? It would take another 2 hours to get it all down on film. For example, one chapter deals with the history of food stamps and how it came into being in 1939. The initial program helped farms and the poor by offering fresh fruits and vegetables and other extra farm commodities at a reduced rate that could be purchased with food stamps. Over the years the program morphed into allowing more foods to be purchased with food stamps, such as soda drinks.  Don’t believe everything you hear on the news, do the research yourself. Call your library and ask to get that book perhaps through an inter library loan.

After a couple of weeks of watching documentaries and reading and researching, I received an e-mail from a friend at church. A nearby college was hosting a hunger and homelessness awareness week. The friend asked me if I would like to attend a few of the events with her. I was very excited to go and learn more. The first night they showed the documentary “A Place at the Table.” The next night we were invited to a panel discussion. Four panelists were present: one was the director of a local food pantry; one was a director of a large homeless shelter, one was from an organization that helps to fill the gaps in between charities and one person who promotes community gardens and individual gardens for individuals to grow their own produce.

The 3rd night was an OXFAM banquet. I was given the role of being a middle income individual and was served rice and beans. There were guest speakers from the World Food Bank and a professor who is teaching a class on Food and Justice.

OKAY – why am I telling you this? We all want to leave this life having made a difference and I am finding my niche.

Between me and my friend, we have solicited a few other like minded women at our church to work on poverty and hunger in our community. We are in the process of interviewing 15 local charities to find out their purpose, their needs and their vision for our community to aid in this issue. In January when we meet and report our findings to each other, it is our goal to find a “gap” in meeting the needs of the hungry and poor in our community. We don’t want to overlap or try to fill a need that is already being met.

 I’m not sure where we will find the gap, but I am guessing that we may start a weekend food backpack program in our elementary school, summer time meals for children when school is out, or even a breakfast program at our church for students in High School. Most of these students could get a free breakfast, but how many poor High School students want that stigma?

We will concentrate our efforts on one program. I am passionate to do something.

I want to also find a way to reduce our expenses as much as possible so that we can get money in the bank for our retirement. I have no idea what the cost of living will be in 11 years when we retire, but I am now feeling as if we need to set aside more money for food and other incidentals. If anything, I could save money so that when there is a hunger need, I can help meet it.