“There but for the grace of God go I” is a phrase I have uttered and thought more times than I can recall. Seeing the poor infants in the refugee camps in East Africa is an image I can never unsee, and I don’t think I am supposed to ever forget. Starving infants, children and parents unable to feed their own is a stress that was as foreign as far away countries or at least it used to be before the COVID-19 pandemic.
A record number of Michigan families are coming to the Food Bank Council’s network. Many are coming for the first time in their lives and never expected to be looking for food, ever! Here is the data: almost 2 million of our neighbors and their kids are missing meals and living at an increased level of food insecurity. The statistics are important because it informs our strategy to get more food more often to more people across the state. But the stats and the data don’t tell the whole story.
Have you wondered who is sitting in the cars that stretch for miles when food is being distributed? Thomas is a high-low driver at an automotive manufacturer which was shut down until mid-June. He was out of work for three months and continues to fear his shifts may be cut again. His wife stopped working to stay home with the young kids and plans to continue caring for them this fall.
“We’re not sending our kids into school right now because of all the cases,” Thomas shared with me. “Until that gets figured out, I’m not going to risk my child who has asthma. If we were going to put our kids into the three different schools they go to, all the different variables, all these thousands of families — it sounds like a mess, and it sounds scary.”
With his wife and the kids at home, Thomas continues to feel an additional strain to provide more than he has before. He told me that when everyone is in school, the kids get breakfast and lunch, so the food bill would go down.
“Everyone has been home since March. We could easily go through $400 in a week in food,” he said. “Granted, we are thrifty and use our resources. Going to food pantries really helps us out.”
Thomas said his income level disqualifies the family from receiving SNAP benefits. He received 50 pounds of fresh produce, a dozen eggs, several loaves of bread and a gallon of milk.
When I read Thomas’s story, I recall, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I think the same thing about Erica who has two children, ages 5 and 8. Her mother also lives with the family. In November 2019, Erica’s husband lost his job at a manufacturing plant and had been looking for consistent work for the past nine months.
“He tried really hard to find a job, but with the holidays it was hard. He found a job two days ago, and we hope it will continue,” she said.
During the pandemic crisis, Erica could feed her kids through the P-EBT and the food provided by their schools, but sometimes her and her husband would go without meals. Occasionally, Erica would hear about a generous business or neighbor giving away food, but it was not consistent.
“Finding food is always on my mind. Maybe I wasn’t scared, but I was very worried,” she said. Just when their struggle with food was turning from bad to worse, Erika heard about a distribution. Erica received 50 pounds of fresh produce, a dozen eggs, several loaves of bread and a gallon of milk. “Now, I can cook every day. It’s been good. I feel okay now.”
Relieving the toxic stress of food insecurity and stabilizing a home is the power of food. Fear is replaced with faith, worry gives way to hope and dismay surrenders to courage. The power of food can change a family’s circumstance, and it can change anyone’s perspective.
Grace is powerful but so is policy. Our current policies do not support work nearly as well as they could. The COVID-19 pandemic is worldwide in its scope. So, too, should our dedication to ensure no child in America ever grows up under the toxic stress of being food insecure.
None of us get to choose our families, but all of us who had access to food should say that prayer, “There but for the grace of God go I.” We all must help those less blessed. You can do that by going to www.feedmichigan.org and listening to our podcast at www.foodfirstmi.org.