An older man, standing in a parking space that normally would have held a car on a very busy day at the Farmer’s Market, asked E. and I for food. He was unassuming and spoke so quietly, I tuned him out. It was only after I’d walked on for a few steps that I realized what he had said. I was babywearing and had my hands full with bags and keys so we continued on to the car. E. was tired and quiet herself after a full morning of swimming and the happy chaos of the market but I dropped the bags in the front seat anyway, searching quickly for one small white one and headed back to find him.
My daughter will never see me turn away someone who asks us for food. I hope that she will never know what it is to be hungry but who knows? Maybe she will. But more likely is that she will take for granted, as I know I often do, the fact that our fridge has plenty of food in it. That there is a special bowl in the kitchen with choices of organic fruit in it. She isn’t relegated to one wooden-tasting apple as he might be after a free dinner at a local shelter. Even now, a toddler, she knows choice.
More so than simply not taking food for granted, I want E. to see her own privilege. I want her to always do whatever she can (assuming she feels safe) to help someone else who is not as fortunate as she is. The only way to make this happen is for me to show her. She imitates me brushing my teeth and sniffing at the dog’s breath; she is ripe to see me give away a biscuit or a coffee to someone who is hungry.
She takes in everything, that kid! E. hears anger now and while she still laughs at my tears, I think that we’re not far off from her feeling anxious or upset when I am too. Soon she’ll also see my own anger, shame even at how poorly we treat people who are desperate, unlucky or just hungry. But for us, there won’t be pointless frustration with no action. What would it teach her if I just cursed our system and then drove home to munch homemade cookies and milk on the porch? Nothing. And how confusing! I always take the small step that I can: give something that I bought away.
This little insignificant action not only forces me to give something that I want/have to someone else who needs it more, it also forces me to confront my own discomfort. Discomfort with my own privilege, horribly inadequate social services, callous disregard for those less fortunate than ourselves and the emotions behind someone else’s “ask”.
Is it more humiliating to ask for money or for food? Asking for money, using a sign even and not even speaking a word, has a feel of familiarity in a way. Everyone always wants more money. This guy/gal on the street is no different, right? Asking for food, though, shows just how desperate you really are. You just want something to eat. Not money…which could be used for any bad habit that the listener decides to foist on you before walking away to the own car or home, shaking their head.
The assumption is one person can’t ever really do anything to make a difference, to change a broken system. The reality is that she can. Even an action seemingly small is the difference between an aching belly and a fuller one. Ask someone who’s hungry if that makes a difference.