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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Poverty is Our Problem, Too

It was February in Connecticut.  The bitter winds blew over the snow, frozen into icy lumps so that even the force of the gales could not lift it.  Walking over it, my warm boots didn't even make a crunch.  My fingers were frozen; I was holding a microphone.  My lips were chapping and my eyes watering; I had to leave my face uncovered so that I could interview the various people who came my way.

They were lined up in tattered coats, wearing dirty threadbare turtlenecks three sizes too big.  Many pushed strollers ahead of them, little heads sticking out from beneath old blankets, staring wide-eyed into the early winter sunlight.

"Excuse me, miss," I said, "I was wondering if you had time to answer a few questions."

"No hablo ingles," she replied.

I turned to the next in line.

"Excuse me, sir, can you answer a few questions?"

Up ahead, the line shifted.  Another woman was at the front now, struggling to find her ID card with numb fingers sticking out from torn gloves.  Another woman was with her, attending to the carriage on her left with coos and pets.

"I'm sorry, miss," I heard from the door at which the woman was standing.  "We are all out of diapers, and this is our last jar of baby food.  You can have it.  I know it's not enough.  Why don't you try again next week."

The woman's shoulders slumped a little bit as she accepted her small bag of assorted groceries.  I managed to talk with her later.  She said she would make do with the oatmeal and pasta.  The baby could eat that.  She would get here even earlier next week (it was only 9:00 a.m.); the baby goods always ran out first.  She said people just didn't think about children living in poverty.  They'd prefer to pretend it didn't exist rather than help.  Homeless people in America, she said, were thought of as irresponsible burdens on society who'd gotten themselves into their own mess.  Since children don't fit into that definition, they were often overlooked.

"I may be poor, and completely out of luck," she said, "but I do what I can for my child, and she did nothing to deserve this."

She was soft-spoken and well-mannered.  She was kind and thoughtful.  She was struggling.  She was homeless.  Her daughter was beautiful.  They were both freezing, so I let them go on their way.

I was a reporter at the time; my assignment to interview people visiting the food pantry on this winter morning, to talk to the organizers of the pantry, to paint a picture for our viewers of the lack of resources in the area, to show them how much help was needed, to open their hearts.

And I, myself, was so lucky to be there.  Just months before, my husband had lost his job.  I had our twins two weeks later.  We had just bought a house (for more than twice what it is worth now.)  We were soon to lose our health insurance.  I was budgeting down to the penny for groceries.

And I had had it easy.  The state provided for us.  We received unemployment.  They allowed me to sign up for WIC.  We never went a day without food.  We never spent a night without heat.  We worried ourselves sick over our poverty.  We didn't know it at the time, but we weren't poor at all.

Now, after having secured a new job closer to home after my maternity leave ended, I truly saw poverty.  And it was my job to stick a microphone in its face and ask it why it existed.

One child hungry is too many.  One person hungry is too many.  We forget that this is a daily reality as we survey our dirty living rooms and wade through the laundry.  We think, I cannot possibly spare a dime, I'm just as badly off as anyone out there, why, we hardly were able to afford our groceries this week.

But we were able to afford them.  And most of us brought them back to a warm, bright house and set our babies down in their warm, safe cribs while we put them away.

No one should have to suffer in any season, children least of all.  I know each of us cannot do nearly enough to make even the smallest dent in the problem of child poverty that is becoming more and more widespread.  But if you buy an extra package of diapers this week, and I buy three extra packages of wipes, and my neighbor buys a few boxes of baby food, we've all only spent $6.  And we've set up a child living in poverty for an entire week.

In these economic times, no one has anything left to give.  But it is precisely in these economic times that we need to search within ourselves and dig past the lint in our own empty pockets to help a child who otherwise might very well freeze or starve to death.

No mother should have to stand in line at a food pantry for hours in the dark and cold of a February morning only to be told there is nothing left at 9 a.m.

We can make a difference.  We just have to try.

**This post in contribution to the blogshare at Life Inspired by the Wee Man.


Don't forget to please vote for Tales of an Unlikely Mother if you are enjoying this blog.


  1. What food bank was that? I want to go over now and make a donation. Thanks for the reminder that we all could be doing more.

  2. Oh dear, I believe it was attached to St. Ann's Church in New Haven, but I could be mistaken. I visited a lot of shelters and food banks that year.

    Even if you just went to one near you (and if you email or FB me, I should be able to find one for you...I still have the master list somewhere)...

    PS - Elise, you are one of the most wonderful people I've ever had the please to meet. Dulce ASKED FOR YOU the other day, just so you know.

  3. Beautifully, powerfully written, D.

  4. Wonderfully written! You are so right... it doesn't take much to make a huge difference. It is a small amount of effort very well-spent.

  5. Wow....I could be speachless, but give me a second to think about, heartfelt, terribly true.

    Thank you for contributing. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for giving me the opportunity. I love what you are doing with your blog. You are truly a good person.

  7. Beautiful heartfelt! I always always think how lucky I am and if Im having a bad day I always remember there are people out there who are REALLY having a bad day. Lovely Blog and I will be a frequent vistor. Thankyou for the warm welcome over at MBC x

  8. It's shocking. This breaks just my heart.

    It's so true what she said "people just didn't think about children living in poverty. They'd prefer to pretend it didn't exist rather than help." I said exactly the same thing people brush it under the carpet like it doesn't exist. Well they need to start facing it otherwise it will never change.



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