News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

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

Time, treats, jobs

I appreciate being able to “help” the kids finish meals.

I appreciate being able to pick up a treat now and then.

I appreciate being able to afford to eat meat regularly and to eat out occasionally.

I appreciate that my wife and I have good jobs so that we can buy enough food each week.

I appreciate the opportunities to receive free food periodically.

I appreciate the fact that it takes more time to prepare meals from scratch, which is required when on a limited budget.

— Ryan J. Loftus

Process Engineer

DuPont Nutrition and Health Danisco USA Inc.

Kids need fuel

This has made me realize even more that hungry children cannot perform as well in school! They need to have a full stomach to have a clear mind for learning.

— Susan Mardis

Principal

Deming Elementary School

Finding solutions

The last two days I’ve spent thinking more about the solutions to reducing hunger in our community than I have the food. Providing for those that are hungry, and not able to provide for themselves, is important.

At the same time, enabling more individuals to provide for themselves is critical. Our work in our community is so connected — from running our businesses, skill-building with our workforce, advancing our school systems, educating on ways to economize and provide access to assistance, providing support for our neighbors in need — we have to provide support for all areas. I had a meeting [Thursday] with a team from Purdue University focused on advancing innovation for Indiana companies. While always focused on growing our business, I have an entirely new passion for creating and growing jobs and helping provide employment opportunities for others, given the attention/awareness on hunger this week. Businesses in our community have tremendous generosity and I believe we are blessed with a community that cares.

Whatever we can do to retain, grow and create new jobs to enable others is just as critical to the discussion of providing for our neighbors and our energy focused toward giving. It’s all critical to our community growth.

— Lori Danielson

Vice President Clabber Girl Corp.

Break chain of poverty

I have a much greater appreciation for the United Way and Catholic Charities and other organizations that fight this battle day in and day out.

By the time this article is read, my Hunger Challenge will be over, and I will once again have that freedom to choose my meals for the day without too much thought. Those fighting poverty will continue to live day to day wondering if their food will last the week. The kids will continue to struggle in school and sports because of the lack of energy and concentration due to hunger.

I appreciate the work ethic my parents instilled in me growing up and the hope that I could do better.  We have to continue building hope for these kids so that they can someday be the leaders of our community, but, most importantly, break this chain of poverty by creating more opportunities to those who want to do better. Thanks.

— Todd Pepperworth

Director of Operations

Hamilton Center Inc.

Impact at school

After living on ramen noodles and hot dogs, I feel so lethargic, and I sleep more than before the challenge but still am tired. So I have to say, I appreciate that I have the opportunity to eat a well-balanced and nutritious meal.

I can’t imagine going to school day in and day out feeling this way; no child should have to carry that.

— Chad Overton

Owner, Servpro

Offer help

I decided to take part in the Hunger Challenge when I listened to Claudia Tanoos share her and her husband Danny’s experience from last year. When she spoke at the United Way breakfast earlier this month, I knew it was something I needed to do. It had been quite a while since I’d truly been hungry or concerned about a grocery bill.

I’ve been sensitive to others’ hunger in our valley most of my life. My father was a wounded prisoner of war in WWII. As a prisoner, he knew hunger, well. He taught us to appreciate all that we had and to share generously with others. In the sixth grade, my class went to Chicago for the day and we had to take our lunch and dinner. A sack lunch was a new experience for me. My parents had packed half-a-dozen sandwiches with fruit, chips and a box of Hostess cupcakes. I was shocked when I opened it! However, my teacher, Mr. Lutz knew exactly what my parents’ intention had been. He quickly, and with much grace, tucked it around my hungry classmates’ plates. We didn’t have a free- or reduced-lunch program in the ’60s, and some had very little to bring.

As a newlywed, over 30 years ago my father in-law taught me how to cut up a whole chicken. I’d been cooking since I was 9 but only knew how to stuff a whole chicken with carrots and celery, and roast it in the oven. I’d learned how to prepare the “best” pieces for my families’ dinner plate, but now I needed to use all the others. As a young wife, nothing was wasted and we had soup for dinner every week. Now my children are grown, and I shop and cook only for myself. All my chicken has become “skinless, boneless white meat.”

As I stood looking at the beautiful selection of fall fruits available this week, I was reminded that many people do not get to buy choice, polished, individual apples. I was pleased my meager budget, just over $29 and change, did allow me to buy a 3-pound bag. Every apple in the sack was considerably smaller to those sold individually. I did find a special on fresh broccoli, but I couldn’t afford dark green leafy lettuces for my salads. Instead I bought a head of lettuce. I didn’t have enough money for salad dressing and tried to improvise with canned tomatoes with green chilies and a little sweetener. It was barely edible, but there was no “waste” allowed this week. I needed to eat what I did and didn’t like. There was no extra money to return to the store and try again.

I was supported by emails and blogs of others also doing the Hunger Challenge this week. I learned much about soup kitchens, mission offerings and Catholic Charities’ many programs. What a blessing it is to the needy in our community.

On Wednesday evening I had peanut butter and crackers, one of my very small apples and water. I enjoyed it as “fast food” because I didn’t have to do much prep. Crackers and peanut butter are staples in the Weekend Back Pack program. This program — not funded with government money but by our community — sends a small pack of food home with students who request it each Friday. My small apple was just about the size of a fruit cup that would also go home. It was enough for me but a teenager would be hard pressed to be satisfied.

The last several years, I have counted “points,” grams, calories and nutritional values of the food I’ve eaten but rarely the cost. When I shop, I have the luxury of going to several markets and choosing from the best fruits and vegetables offered. I am still careful to buy “in season” but this week my “season” was poverty. Food, in its purest form, is technically food for the body. I would say my usual “fuel” expenditures would keep me out of the “premium” bracket most weeks, but put me somewhere above “economy.” I’ve never really been extravagant except during the holidays. However, I now realize how pampered I’ve become. I shop without a fear of not having enough money at the register. This week I didn’t really have money for “shopping.” I was challenged to even buy “economy fuel” and blessed that I didn’t end up “walking!” As the mail arrived this week, I realized my monthly expenditures for “healthy eating” and lifestyle magazines could buy a week’s worth of HC food.

The Lord’s Word says, “The poor will always be with us.” Perhaps it is to keep those of us who are blessed humble. When I turn my eyes away from the needs of the poor, I’m failing to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” My neighbors and many students I see each day are hungry. I can choose to selfishly reach for the single perfect apple next week when I shop. Or, I can reach down to those who need hope and contribute the time and money He’s given me to help them. I choose to give, more. After all, you can’t out give the Giver.

— Susan Eisman

Media Specialist

Terre Haute North Vigo High School

Use your food

I appreciate more that people in our community are willing to participate in this Hunger Challenge, share their experiences and learn how they can be part of the solution.

And on a more simple level, I appreciate more those who don’t waste food.

— John C. Etling

Agency Director

Catholic Charities Terre Haute

Fellowship, realization

I’ve come to appreciate convenience, the fellowship of meals, and choice. I’ve learned more than anything how much I take for granted what I’ve been given. In a society of more, more, more, I’ve come to realize that I have much more than I deserve.

— Jaclyn Bevis

Reporter/Weekend Producer

WTHI-TV: News10/MyFox10

Appreciating blessings

Having done this now for the second year, and listening to individuals as they call seeking food assistance for themselves and their families, food insecurity brings a whole new meaning into my mainstream in life. I found myself wondering if I was going to make it through the week on my food purchases, counting my bread slices as the week went on, and lessening my portions to make it stretch.

While shopping for food this year, I was much more frugal with my money. Not having to do this on a weekly basis, month in and month out, I have a new appreciation for those who always have to choose generic brands and all food items at the cheapest cost. I think on some foods it doesn’t have that much difference, but then on others, you do notice a difference in quality. To make sure I did not go hungry, being impoverished means I could not always enjoy the best quality or enjoy the portions I was accustomed. I could not enjoy the extra spices or seasonings to make the food tastier. Some of it was very bland, but couldn’t afford the extras.

I know when I visit our pantries or witness our food distributions at the foodbank every third Saturday, I truly have a heart for those people who are seeking to have enough to eat when their SNAP benefits have been depleted or when there is simply not enough funds in their budget to buy groceries. I think once again as I go shopping, I will have a greater awareness of what I buy, and also when I do fix meals, not wanting to waste any portions of what I may be fixing. This past week, I found myself scraping the pots onto the dishes, savoring every last morsel that was in the bowl or on the plate. I did not want to waste a drop.

When I see individuals gathering their supplies now in our food pantries and asking if they can have more, I can now better appreciate their situations and just not wanting to be hungry. The simple joys of snacking, enjoying a favorite beverage, or just being able to eat when I want, is heightened ten-fold now. So many times I take for granted those instances where I just want something to munch while watching TV or having friends over, and just automatically do it. I sincerely believe now that I will appreciate more the “blessings” I have, and be more mindful of how I can support someone who may truly be so hungry that they do not know if they will have enough to eat tomorrow. Maybe this upcoming holiday season, I can encourage those who donate to be just a little more generous and drop off that extra can, or donate that extra dollar.

— Thomas C. Kuhl

Director Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank




Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.