Seeing Hunger in My Neighborhood
By Sandra Joireman
I live in the affluent Western suburbs of Chicago with my family. My husband and I are both employed. Because I have two teenagers at home, I usually shop at less expensive grocery stores, as our food bills are fairly high. Just recently, I made a trip to the store to get some food for my son to take on a four-day youth group trip. Much of what I was buying was not healthy food: chips, some trail mix, fruit snacks, chocolate-covered pretzels, and other items for him to eat while he was on the bus. The sum total of what I was buying was a bit less than $20.
In the checkout line, I was just behind a young man who was about the same age as my son. As his groceries were running through, he pulled out an EBT card, used to purchase food with SNAP benefits (food stamps). He told the cashier he had only $30 left on it. She said, "You have more than $30 worth of stuff. Pick what you don’t want." Chicken, soup, pasta, cheese, and — the only extravagance in any of his purchases — two bottles of sports drink were all moved to the back of the conveyor belt.
On the conveyor belt, my purchases were separated, by the plastic bar, from what he could not buy. The inequality of life was captured for me in that image. On my side, all sorts of frivolous food items being purchased by a mother for her child, who is going on an adventure; on his side, the bare necessities of life, purchased by a young man with a lot of responsibilities at home. I turned to him and said, "I would be honored if you would allow me to buy the rest of these items for you." He agreed. I paid the $10.19 that made up the remainder of his bill not covered by the EBT card. He thanked me, took his groceries, and left the store.
I am deeply unsettled by what happened. I don’t know the name of that young man, but I know that he is a child of God. I think about the differences between his life and the life of my son, the same age, living in the same community. Food is a necessity of life. There are people around us, even in affluent communities, who are struggling to meet their basic needs with SNAP. It is an important program that provides a very basic level of nutrition and little else. Even in these times of fiscal contraction, it is important for Christians to support a circle of protection around those programs that provide for the needs of people in our communities—people who are just like our mothers, aunts, grandfathers, and children.
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