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September 23, 2012

MARK BENNETT: Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

People can’t fully comprehend the struggles of the hungry until they’ve gone without food

TERRE HAUTE — Joe South turned a call for empathy and understanding into a 1960s pop music classic.

His song, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” wonders how mindsets would change “if I could be you, and you could be me, for just one hour.” South’s point was that people can’t fully comprehend the struggles of others unless they experience those difficulties, too.

Last week, for seven days, more than 50 people participated in the United Way of the Wabash Valley Hunger Challenge. The project, in its second year through a partnership with Terre Haute Catholic Charities, asked participants to restrict their week’s food purchases to $29.27, or $4.18 per day — the average one week amount allotted to a Vigo County resident receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (formerly known as food stamps).

As one of those challenge-takers, I can attest that the process illuminated a situation many of us only see from a distance, if at all. In reality, the problem is closer than we suspect — 1 in 4 kids, and 1 in 6 adults locally struggle with hunger. Below are some stories from participants who walked a little nearer to the paths of the hungry.

Choices limited

There are so many things that I now appreciate so much more than before. I appreciate how difficult it is make sure that you have enough food … How much time goes into shopping, prepping and cooking nutritious meals when you have so little, and how little things that I once took for granted became so very important, like creamer in my coffee, seasonings for my food; staples such as flour, sugar and milk were too expensive, and so I had to find other ways to thicken and sweeten and I had to give up milk altogether! Everything had to be portioned. I couldn’t sit down and eat as much as I wanted; everything had to be controlled.

I shopped at Aldi’s, Dollar Tree, Dollar General and purchased one item from Walmart. I later thought about how I hadn’t given a thought to driving to four different stores to find “just the right price” for my food so that it would fit into my budget. My afterthought was that most families on such restricted budgets would probably not be able to afford the gas to drive to all of these lower-price venues and so would be forced to buy food at one of the high-end grocery stores that might be within close proximity to their home.

And so, I believe that I am so much more appreciative of having the freedom to choose what I want, eat what I want, and eat it whenever I want to, never fearing that hunger will be an obstacle for me.

I look at a lot of things differently now.

— Joyce Swoveland

Secretary

Covered Bridge Special Education District

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