Since moving into a new home two months ago I have begun to realize the goals I set for myself. I knew I wanted to give back to my community and volunteer. For about a month now I spend three to four hours a week volunteering for a center that provides food and financial assistance to those in need. It has been a very humbling experience. Six months ago I thought that food stamps kept people from going hungry. I was shocked to find out that many children and families in this country go hungry. When I look back on my upbringing, I see how blessed I am. I was raised in what our society considers a middle class home. To the vast majority of people in the world, I grew up in a very wealthy home. And even now, with the diminishing middle class, my family is extremely fortunate and basically, very wealthy people in material terms.
Although I have been really enjoying my volunteer time, it is also difficult to be faced with poverty that I didn’t know existed on such a large scale. At this time of the year, the center focuses on providing holiday gift and food baskets for those who need some help. People requesting assistance must fill out a form with a wish list. The wish lists are so humbling and heartbreaking. In my world socks for Christmas are a joke. A plain hoodie? You gotta be kidding me right? It’s not a joke to the families who are asking for holiday assistance. The things they ask for these things – long johns, pajamas, undergarments, socks, any kind of pants the right size… I can’t imagine wearing a pair of pants my mom bought for me… Not many people would buy the kind of pants I would want to wear.
And that’s part of how blessed I am, I have plenty of clothes. Buying a pair of socks is so insignificant for me. I try not to buy many new clothes, but that is a choice, not a constraint. The requests that really broke my heart were for the young children. One woman hoped to receive a baby play mat for her two month old. She also asked for diapers. Diapers!!!! Something is seriously wrong in the world if a woman requests diapers for Christmas. It was a very difficult week for me. I feel like I want to help everyone. Another woman came in to fill out a form and she was telling me all the things that went wrong for her this year. She asked me to pray for her! Bless her heart. When I looked at the form, she had requested food for her husband and herself. She also put down “one small dog” in the children section.
For a moment I scoffed at this, I went to the place of judgement we all like to go to. I thought, this woman can’t feed herself and she’s asking for help with the dog. How small of me was this? By the end of my shift at the volunteer center, I wanted to buy dog food to make sure this lady got dog food with her Christmas basket. We have another man who needs help with food and says after his medical bills, other bills and the dog he can’t feed himself. Why would we judge this? Is feeding one dog going to make the difference between this man having enough food? No way. That is a way to make ourselves feel comfortable, to blame people’s circumstances on something they did or did not do. When in fact, poverty has nothing to do with the damn dog, and often little to do with anything a person can control.
We are all a few disasters away from being on the streets or not having enough food. That is the discomfiting part of poverty. That is why as humans, we try to blame poverty on some character defect.