The smell of the warm to-go chicken caused the gnawing in her stomach to increase. She had been on her feet at the cash register for four hours and the heels from the bottom of the bread bag topped with the last scrapings from the jam jar had long left her stomach. Rachael had given Becca all the quarters she had left for the field trip to the apple orchard as she put her on the bus, grateful that the free lunch at school meant at least one of them would eat today. She thanked her customer for “shopping at Walmart”, scooped up her purse and practically ran out the door. She hoped the line at the food pantry wouldn’t be too long so she could get a couple of bags of food to tide them over before her payday.
Fortunately the community center was close to her job since she her old Jetta had less than a quarter of a tank of gas in it. She nosed it into a parking spot. She always wondered if the happy looking mothers walking in with their yoga mats could tell she was one of those people heading around to the pantry in the back corner of the building. It always felt like she had a neon sign on her back that read, “too poor to feed my baby.”
Rachael wove herself into the line of people and hoped that she would be lucky enough to get Becca’s favorite cereal today. She always enjoyed seeing her 6-year-old smile when she dug the Honey Nut Cheerios out of the grocery sack. Near the front of the line she noticed her co-worker Liz from the hardware department. Though they sometimes chatted when they had break together, the unwritten rule here was to pretend they didn’t see each other; pretend that they could support their children on their own without charity.
Rachael nervously tapped her toe as the line crept forward. Her boss was a stickler about getting back to her register on time and had threatened to dock her a shift the next time she was late. Her anxiety rose as the minutes ticked by creating a nauseous soup in her empty stomach. She needed this job but she also needed this food. She hated to see the sorrow in Becca’s eyes when dinner was the last can of green beans in the cupboard. Serving them by candlelight just made the putrid shade of green mock her even more. But the three months they spent in the homeless shelter last winter was far worse than a night of hunger. If push came to shove, she decided she would leave without the food if the line took too long.
It’s that time of year again. The push for donations to the food pantries to stock them up for the holidays and the long winter. We will add our contributions to the piles adding some gluten free items to the mix. At the same time I can’t help but notice that with the explosion of Walmarts, Dollar Stores and Home Depots, the closing of various manufacturers over the past 20 years and then the financial melt-down there has also been an explosion in the number of food pantries and more articles in the paper about empty shelves. There is far more dignity in working people earning enough money to be able to pay rent AND put food on the table. Desperate people don’t fight back much, until they do.