May You Have Enough

Hungry at Home: The Bills are Paid, but the Cupboard is Empty

Hunger isn’t just a news segment. It isn’t something that happens in other countries, other cities, or other neighborhoods. Hunger isn’t only in the bellies of the homeless.

There are hungry people everywhere. They are your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends and acquaintances. While hunger is most commonly seen on TV and at your local homeless shelter, the fact of the matter is that it exists right in your backyard. It may even exist in your very own kitchen.

According to Hunger Free Colorado, a non-profit that aims to help all Coloradans gain access to healthy food and nutrition, 1 in 7 Coloradans suffers from hunger, 1 in 4 working families cannot afford enough food to meet their basic needs, and 1 in 7 people do not know where their next meal will come from.

Hungry at Home – Rachael’s Story

In November of 2014, I was walking to the cafeteria at work with a friend. As we headed downstairs, we were talking about paying bills and buying groceries. Half-jokingly, I made the comment of “Yeah, food is a luxury for me right now. So grocery shopping has to wait until next paycheck.” While I laughed on the outside with my cold pizza in my lunch bag, my stomach wasn’t laughing.

Unbeknownst to me, another co-worker had heard my comment. The next day, as I walked to my desk to start my day I noticed a small envelope. Inside was a $100 gift card to Safeway with a note that read, “Food is not a luxury. Hope this helps.” That random co-worker had no idea how much their gesture of kindness meant to me. That night, my fiancé and I went grocery shopping and stocked our fridge and pantry.

That was two years ago. In my nearly 30 years of life on this planet, I’ve had a job for about 12 of them. I’ve been living on my own for the most part since I was 21. I pay my bills and make sure the electricity stays on. I may not be the first person you’d think of when you think of food insecurity but, isn’t that the point? The bills are paid, but…

The Emotional Side of Food Insecurity

…the cupboards are empty. That’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve got a job and a roof over your head. The emotions that come with food insecurity can range from shame to sadness, anger to anxiety, and like you’ve totally failed in the eyes of your peers. And they range in severity depending on the circumstances.

The Food Bank of the Rockies serves roughly 411,000 people annually. 25% are educated beyond high school, while 7% have four-year degrees. Hunger affects everyone regardless of educational background or social class.

The effects of hunger don’t just cause physical pain – they can have a lifetime impact on your mental state, causing bouts of depression, anxiety, and fear. We as a society joke about being “hangry”, but the fact is that increased aggression is common when there’s little to no food around, or when you don’t know where the next meal is coming from. Those who experience food insecurity may not always tell their core group that they’re hungry. Whether it be embarrassment or that whole shame thing I mentioned earlier, many people keep quiet about their struggles. Asking for help can seem like an admission of failure, and this ultimately leads to suffering in silence.

But there is hope…

Filling the Cupboard

More and more people are taking to the streets to help those who are hungry. The majority of media coverage focuses on groups feeding the homeless, but there are others who are willing to feed anyone who is experiencing hunger.

Donation-Based Restaurants

Donation and volunteer-based restaurants are opening all over the country. Here in Denver, we have at least two – S.A.M.E. Café in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and Café 180 in Englewood. At these restaurants, patrons donate what they think the food is worth, and if they can’t pay with cash they can volunteer their time as payment. For single moms, families, the elderly living on fixed income, and anyone else in the midst of food insecurity, this is a great option to get something to eat.

Independent Outreach Groups

These organizations vary from city to city, but many people in the community enjoy getting together and helping their fellow man. A local group called May You Have Enough is the perfect example of that. Every other Saturday, the group gets together to make sack lunches and pass them out to those who need them.

Local Food Banks

There are more food banks in the city of Denver than you might expect. Many churches and religious organizations run their own food banks, however, community organizations such as Denver Metro CareRing and Food Bank of the Rockies also provide food to Denver’s hungry. If you need to fill your cupboards and can’t afford to hit the market, these organizations can help.

At the End of the Day, Help Your Neighbor

Whether you’re experiencing food insecurity yourself, know someone who is, or just want to help someone who might be, the opportunity to get help and to make a difference is there. If you can, donate to your local food bank, volunteer at your local shelter, or start an independent outreach of your own. There is always going to be someone who needs you.

-R

Our next big discussion will dive deeper into the work of local agencies and groups working to not only feed those dealing with food insecurity, but also empower them toward self sufficiency and achievement of food justice. We’ll also discuss the thousands of kids currently receiving a majority of their meals from school breakfast and lunch programs who will struggle to find enough to eat in the summer months.

Hungry at Home

“I’m so hungry!”

When we say that, it can mean one of several things. I could mean my stomach is growling, I’m bored, or that I just smelled something delicious and now I want some of whatever’s cooking. But it could also mean there’s nothing to eat, that there consistently hasn’t been anything for me to eat, or I’m afraid I’m about to run out of things to eat with no money to replace them. Regardless of what you mean when you say it, the word “hungry” demands satisfaction.

Starting this week, and over the next several weeks, my friend Rachael Niswander and I are going on a search for, well, if not satisfaction, at least some truth, as part of a series of reports called “Hungry at Home.” Through this series, we’ll first look at the experiences of those who are dealing with hunger and food insecurity; then at those who are working to help feed them, empower them, and give them hope; and finally, the people who are growing and supplying the food that seems to be so plentiful for some, yet frustratingly out of reach for others.

We’ll focus on the issue right here in the Denver/Boulder, Colorado metros. However, these questions don’t just demand answers in Colorado. People are hungry everywhere. Rachael and I both have our own stories to tell, along with those of dozens of others right in our own backyard. Our hope is that by shining a light on our own community, you will also hear echoes of the stories of hundreds just like us across the country, maybe even in your own community.

Today, we’re attending the Forward Food Summit in Denver. The summit, a collaboration between the Denver and Boulder Food Rescues, was organized to get all the local players in the same room to present ideas to like minded folks in our area, and help give those interested in taking an active role in the food justice arena a place to talk to each other and, perhaps, join forces. We’re so excited to share what we’re learning here, as well as letting some of those in attendance share their experiences as they follow their own search for satisfaction.

We’re hungry for change. We’re hungry to make a difference. We’re hungry to hear your story, too. Hunger affects us all, in one way or another, so the conversation needs to include us all. No matter where you live, we hope you’ll join in.

— -

About the Authors

Rachael Niswander is a passionate writer living in the Denver area. Originally from L.A., Rachael moved to Denver in 2010 to pursue a life where she depended only on herself. She realized that dream through hard work and perseverance, which included lessons in food insecurity. During a financially difficult time in 2014, Rachael was gifted a $100 Safeway gift card with a note that read, “Food is not a luxury. Hope this helps.” This anonymous gift was one of hope and Rachael promised to pay it forward when she could.

Today, Rachael is a founding member of Denver’s grassroots organization May You Have Enough, which makes and delivers sack lunches and clothing to the homeless. She also plays an active role as co-author of Hungry at Home, along with Jordan Anderson. Join her on Facebook via May You Have Enough and on Twitter at @rockitpixie.

Jordan Anderson is a recent culinary school graduate, food writer and blogger, and private cooking instructor. She currently works “in the industry” in Denver, and has also recently become the PR/Social Media Director for a new pop-up restaurant concept, ELEMENTS. A native of Arkansas, Jordan moved to Denver in 1999 after closing her eyes and pointing to a spot on the map. She is a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, and just celebrated the five year anniversary of her match with her Little. After experiencing food insecurity and homelessness both as a child and an adult, she firmly believes that it will be through the grassroots efforts of local food activist organizations that solutions will be found and implemented. You can find her here online at her blog, I’m Gonna Cook That!, @gonnacookthat on Twitter and Instagram, and GonnaCookThat on Facebook.