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McCallum: Feeding The Hungry



(Host) Local food shelves are an important resource for hungry Vermonters year round. Recently, educator, writer and commentator Mary McCallum saw firsthand where some of that assistance lands in her own town.

(McCallum) It was a cold wet day with pelting rain and sleet. Undeterred, a friend and I joined other volunteers who drive backroads and village side streets for a local food shelf. Black River Good Neighbors in Ludlow has been delivering food to people in five surrounding towns who are struggling to make ends meet for more than thirty years, and this season a squadron of energetic volunteers packed and delivered 321 boxes of donated food and scores of large plastic bags stuffed with holiday items. The days of delivering wicker baskets are over, but cardboard boxes filled with food are just as welcome.

Our assignment was small, a mere three homes spread along ten miles of town roads, yet the diversity of households was striking: a young mother of two in an apartment in the center of town, a couple with small children living in a mobile home off a steep dirt road with an unplowed driveway,and a frail elderly widower who crept to the door with his walker.

Doing deliveries, I felt that I was entering intimate personal spaces, all different but every one marked by need. As each door swung open, I saw, felt and heard the background of their daily lives: a barking dog, arguing children, cats skittering for cover off a snowy porch, the smell of cooking food and cigarette smoke, a radio playing. Or sometimes no sound at all, save for a television turned on to keep the person company. I remember that the aged widower's lights were dim and the young mother's children were eager to help us carry boxes.

My stint took just three hours away from my morning, but the experience stayed with me for days afterward. I found it both uplifting and sad. I already knew that there are unfortunate neighbors in my town who suffer from hard times that include job loss, failing health, scarce resources and loneliness. But as I drove by their homes daily, ticking off my list of errands, I simply assumed that life was normal in the tidy bungalow,the trailer and the old house converted into apartments. Now, I know better.

According to the Vermont Food Bank, hunger is a problem for more than 50 million Americans, and as many as 86,000 Vermonters rely on the state's charitable food system to feed themselves or their families. While many of them find help at their local food shelf, there are others who are unwilling to ask for assistance, especially among the elderly who often must choose between eating - or heating.

Tough choices like these are faced all the time by those we visited that stormy day, and those neighbors gave a human face to the need in my own town. We brought enough food to each of them to last for a while, but hunger knows no season and the work of food shelves in Vermont - and across the country - goes on.