Woman looking into refrigerator

The Empty Fridge

I was away for a few weeks during Christmas when the fridge in my apartment broke. The people who lived upstairs could smell the rotting food through the vents, so my landlord removed and replaced the fridge while I was away.

I came back to that new fridge, this foreign, barren object in the heart of my kitchen. I opened the door to both fridge and freezer empty and just stood there, staring. All the food I had carefully budgeted for, prepped and frozen was gone. Meals for weeks were gone. The meager amount of food I had acquired and saved – root vegetables, onions, pickles, broth – gone. All I could see was that barren fridge, imagining what should be in there.

Stocking up again at the grocery store was financially not an option.

I opened my small cupboard and assessed what I had left, how I could make it work. I devised a plan where I would eat generally one large meal after work each day, mostly oatmeal, spices and a canned vegetable. I ate this one meal for days.

Working with No Kid Hungry on our nutrition education programs in Denver, I saw many manifestations of food insecurity through our courses and tours. Until this moment in my life, however, I did not understand the powerlessness and shame of not being able to provide food.

At work, I told the story of the broken fridge, the poor neighbors enduring the smell and my replacement fridge. It was the light-hearted version, highlighting a minor inconvenience – not the desperate truth.

One coworker could hear the truth in it, the pangs of hunger that had become part of my daily life. This coworker had grown up knowing hunger, and has made it her life’s passion to ensure that families in our community have the food they need. She could see exactly how what that new, empty fridge equated to my empty stomach.

The next day, I came into work and there were two bags of groceries at my desk, plus another bag in the freezer. I could not believe it. She came over and briefly mentioned that she ‘just wanted to make sure I was taken care of’. It did not hit me until she walked away what a difference she had made in my life. It would now be possible to focus on ANYTHING else besides food, without calculating dollars and food rations, without the continuous worry.

That day, she demonstrated one of the most important things there is: providing for those in need, when they need it most so that they can live their lives. Her kindness and generosity allowed me to feel the relief of the work we do. After carrying the groceries to my car that day, I cried. I cried tears of frustration, gratitude and relief. I cried wondering why I couldn’t provide for myself. I cried thinking of those who couldn’t do the same, or for their families. I cried out of liberation and happiness.

My co-worker didn’t sit me down and force me to admit how desperate my food situation was, something I could barely express to myself. She just provided. She did not draw attention to her act of kindness. She just did it, for me, because I needed it. I walk by her desk every day and I cannot express here on paper, or to her in person, the amazing woman she is in my eyes, not only because of the difference she made to me that day, but also how many other people’s lives she has managed to touch in this way.

Because of this, and because of her, I have a deeper understanding, respect and appreciation for the work that we do, and for the amazing people who contribute to it.