Author's note: Earlier this year my husband Jim and I agreed to share our experience of being on food stamps shortly after we married, and appeared in a short video from the No Kid Hungry campaign about protecting SNAP (food stamp) benefits for low income Americans.
I was scheduled to speak about our experience at the No Kid Hungry Dinner in Boston earlier this week. The event was rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, so I didn't end up speaking. Billy asked me if I would be willing to share my prepared remarks with you. They're posted in their entirety below.
Jim and I are grateful to Share Our Strength for having launched our screen careers! We never could have guessed when we met 33 years ago that one day we would become famous as Food Stamp recipients!
When Jim and I first met, Jim’s capital was a beat-up van, a tool belt, a lot of brains and super-human determination. My assets were the $1,000 that my parents had saved over many years for my college graduation gift. I invested that in Jim’s first set of power tools, and I think I have made a pretty good return on my investment!
Jim had set about to learn construction by repairing porches on triple-deckers in Dorchester where we lived. It was inconsistent work for people who often didn’t pay. I was trying to find a job. We were struggling to make our $120 dollar-a-month rent payment. You do what you have to do to get by, so I applied for Food Stamps – and we shared them between us. We certainly were not desperate, unlike many in our neighborhood, because we believed our situation would be temporary. We didn’t feel entitled. We felt grateful. Within 9 months, we were off Food Stamps, but we have never forgotten the truly desperate people we shopped with or how impossible it was to make those stamps stretch for 30 days.
Today, the gap between richest and poorest in America is wider than ever. Today, in a country that sends food aid around the world, 1 out of every 5 children often doesn’t know when they will get their next meal. These children don’t feel entitled. They just feel hungry. And they feel ashamed of their hunger. They try to hide it and become America’s invisible hungry children.
Without food, children don’t grow, and children don’t learn. We know this very personally. We adopted three malnourished children. Each of them has learning disabilities because their young brains didn’t receive the micronutrients and calories they needed to form properly. Despite good nutrition and hard work later on, some things can’t be reversed. These kinds of nutritional deficits diminish self-esteem and earning potential over a life-time.
Feeding America’s kids is not just a moral issue. It’s an emotional issue. It’s an educational issue. It’s an economic issue. It seems too simple to say, but food is essential to keep a child from suffering stunted potential and a lifetime of poverty. Feeding a child -- I can’t imagine a more strategic investment.
There are countless organizations tackling poverty and malnutrition in the U.S., but we have chosen to invest in just one: one nationwide organization that multiplies the power of our investment through creating partnerships with businesses, with governments, with schools and community-based organizations. In addition to funding local food pantries to serve more hungry children, Share Our Strength forms statewide coalitions to get more vulnerable children signed up for Food Stamps and school lunches and school-based breakfasts. This is nutritional assistance that was mandated decades ago by our federal government. When kids are enrolled, states receive federal dollars, which are used to buy food locally. Whether you live in a Red or a Blue State, it’s a win-win nutritional and economic stimulus program all in one.
Many of us are here because we have tremendous admiration and respect for Billy and Rosemary. They are an incomparable leadership pair and we have been blessed by their friendship. But honestly, that is not enough for a financial investment – when there is such steep competition for our dollars and such enormous need. We can’t afford to give simply because of friendship or because it feels good (although it does.) We give so that all of America’s children can grow and learn and realize their full potential – and ultimately work hard to make this society better and fairer. To one hungry child, or to a nation of hungry children, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted, “We give what we have,” because “to someone else it may be better than we dare to think.”