Saturday, October 25, 2008

Food insecurity...what about the children

Yesterday, in the After-School Academy, Sam* (not his real name) pulled me aside after the program and asked for the left-over snacks. Because I'm such a rule-follower and the state says we can only serve snacks for a certain time period...and we can only serve one snack per child, I told him we couldn't give him the extra snacks. As he puffed his lip out and stomped off saying, "But I'm still hungry," I wondered if there was something more to the story.

Every day Sam attends the school's after school program, then comes to us. By the time he gets to us, he misses the snack...but he always asks for it. I began to think there was something more to Sam's request.

I called him to the side and quietly asked him if they had enough food in the house. "When my mama gets her check, we do," he explained. He wasn't sure when the next check was coming. With at least three other kids in the house, I knew one extra snack wasn't going to help. As I talked to Sam, I asked him if his mother would be mad that he told me. He shook his head no. I asked if I could talk to his mom. He said yes. Sam and his two brothers and sister ran home with the rest of the kids.

After all of the kids left, I went to Sam's house with thoughts of getting into our food pantry after hours and getting them some food...or letting his mom know so that she could go herself.

Sam came to the door, munching on a sandwich. He barely cracked the door open. He quickly explained, "My mom's not here." He no longer had the cute smile he couldn't help flashing at the After-School Academy. I asked when she would be back. He said he didn't know, then closed the door. I asked him to open the door again. I asked if he had what he needed. "I have a sandwich. I'm fine."

I felt (and still feel) horrible. I should have just given him the snack he asked for.

I don't know what happened in the 30 minutes between the time that I talked to Sam at the After-School Academy and after he got home, but I believe in my intent to help I messed up. I know from experience that a white lady walking up to an unknown door causes people to question, "What did you do?!"...or it could be CPS...but it's not usually anything good. I'm guessing that's what Sam figured out on his way home and chose not to risk his mom's embarrassment or anger that he had told someone he was hungry.

It makes me think about kids who never told me about their struggles and their hunger until they were adults. ...good kids who found ways of survival--sometimes community programs, sometimes stealing, but always too embarrassed to admit their family's inadequacies.

I went back to the After-School Academy to explain the situation to our other staff members in hopes of figuring out what we could do.

We talked about sticking extra snacks or food into his backpack...but then decided that could get the him in trouble...and could potentially cause every other kid to begin asking for food to take home. We wanted to figure out a way that wouldn't single his family out...and could also potentially help other families in similar situations as well.

We finally thought about CDM's Hunger Busters program, offered at the community recreation center on Mondays and Thursdays...and I became very thankful that Central Dallas has such a variety of programs and partnerships to which we can connect--programs that allow us a little more freedom to make exceptions when needed.

Starting Monday, we will begin working to figure out how to incorporate Hunger Busters into our regular programming at the After-School Academy so that no one is singled out. We will hopefully figure out a way to get Sam and his siblings what they need.

For the rest of the weekend, though, Sam will remain on my mind.
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