Hunger grows apace with the COVID-19 pandemic that by the time this column appears may have taken the lives of nearly 500,000 Americans, the highest toll of any nation in the world. Millions of Americans and up to billions worldwide are already, or will become, victims of what the experts declare, euphemistically, as “food insecurity.”
Last spring, early in the pandemic, my grandson Keith, who along with his girlfriend worked in the restaurant industry and lost their jobs, sent me a personal message on Facebook, saying, “I am hungry, Grandpa.”
The stimulus check they had received barely covered the rent on their apartment. I sent a check for $300 so they could buy food until their unemployment checks arrived. An experienced painter, he has since found enough customers to survive.
For a few years now, I have been also helping Keith’s mother, now retired, survive on a small Social Security pension. I pay for the gas, electricity and other expenses so she can live in our vacation home in New Mexico. Recently, I paid $900 to refill her propane tank. I also contribute to Foodshare, a large food bank in Connecticut.
Born during the Great Depression of the 1930s on a dry-land farm in the foothills of northern New Mexico, we were not strangers to hunger. Because we had goats, cows, pigs and chickens, we seldom ran out of meat in the winter, but we did suffer from lack of fresh fruit. In school, my then four siblings and I would ask classmates who had oranges in their lunch boxes not to throw away the peels but, rather, give them to us.
One winter, however, we did run out of meat and my father decided he needed to hunt a deer, even though it was out of season — a problem because he did not even own a rifle. But my mother’s brother John did have one, and he agreed to lend it, even though he had little faith that Dad would be successful, giving him only three bullets. However, my father needed only one shot to bring down a nine-point buck and it tided us over until spring.
At various times after growing up, I experienced hunger, especially when I was in college. As the oldest of 10 children, I had no one to help me financially; I had to support myself even as I took a full load of courses at Marquette University.
I had a variety of jobs: fry cook at the student union, furnace stoker to pay for my room rent in a widow’s home, part-time loader of freight trucks, night clerk at a hotel and, best of all, being a weekend police reporter for the leading newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal.
Still, I remember a weekend when, having spent all I had for tuition, books and fees, I survived with a loaf of bread and a can of corned beef. And I remember a time or two having nothing to eat on the 20-hour train trip home to Brighton, Colorado.
So now as we begin the second year of the pandemic and thankful that I have so far been spared and have no lack of food, I am happy to share. Recently, I sent $200 to Foodshare, and now that I have received another stimulus check, I am sending another $200.
However, I am not happy about the negative reaction to President Joe Biden’s call to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The last time it was increased was on July 24, 2009, right after the Great Recession. It went from a paltry $6.55 an hour to $7.25. Compassion in Congress never seems to rise above penury.
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