Friday, November 15, 2013

Building a Home Where Hunger Has No Place

Much conversation has been going on recently about the cut backs in SNAP benefits, commonly called food stamps. Effective the first of this month, 1184 households in Poulsbo were affected by these changes. Hearing concerns expressed on both sides of this issue and reading the many commentaries, one realizes that there continues to be some ambiguity about who is food insecure in our country and how they became so.

Being on the front line of our region's war on hunger, Fishline witnesses the real stories and lives that are usually talked about in generalizations when broaching this topic. We see the overwhelming reluctance that most new clients feel when they first come to Fishline. When new clients enter into our front market, a grocery-store like environment, we see their fears melt away, replaced with obvious relief that shows all over their faces. Volunteers tell each other about the extraordinary expressions of gratitude they witness, some so heartfelt that it can't help but change you. Just last week, a client began to cry when thanking the checkout volunteer for the meat that is rarely available in our front market.

These are reactions one cannot fake - they happen unexpectedly, perhaps the result of a long time of trying to be strong and not be afraid. The reality that most working poor families face is one of continuous pressure. Days are spent thinking of ways to make a meager income keep up with the climbing cost of living. Nights are spent tossing and turning because the potential for homelessness and hunger is real. For those looking for work, every unanswered job application or interview that doesn't end with an offer just exacerbates the sinking depression that seems most alive and well at 3 am.

When a little source of relief, such as meat available in the front market, comes your way, you feel a little hope that things might work out after all. But when you get home, the pile of bills await you, and the worry begins again.

One of our volunteers took on an intriguing and courageous experiment because of the compassion she feels for the clients she sees every day. She and her husband would decide to live the entire month of November on a budget they'd receive were they to apply for food stamps, augmented by shopping at Fishline. She is blogging about what she learns while walking in the shoes of our clients. Already in the first week, she finds herself having to give up some ofher favorite items, like coffee and beef, and trying every low-cost recipe she can to stretch their budget. She spends hours each day looking for the lowest cost items and trying to assemble meals that are not filled with empty, cheap carbs and sweets. What she has experienced will remind you that no one would choose this if they had other options.

For her, this struggle will soon be left behind. She will feel the relief that comes when she resumes her normal life of shopping at the Farmer's Market and Central with a renewed appreciation for the hardships of our clients. We pray that, for the thousands of neighbors who live in poverty, they can someday feel that same relief.

Until then, it will fall upon providers like Fishline to fill the gap that results from the cut backs like those affecting SNAP. Our lines will grow longer, and we will try to feed many more people more often. October was our busiest month on record, and the holidays will likely see unprecedented numbers of families needing our help. We ask that you donate generously to Fishline. Our community must rally if it is to remain a home where hunger has no place.

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