Our student council is sponsoring a canned food collection drive this week. This is an annual effort led by Mr. Eric Hagood, our assistant principal, and various clubs have taken ownership of it in years past.
Like a great many other things, I’m too guilty of letting this effort slip my mind during my at-home hours. I get to school each morning, see the collection barrels in the lobbies, and mentally smack myself in the head for forgetting to contribute yet again. Fortunately, my children have a very smart and organized mom who stays on top of such details, and she faithfully sends items to be donated. As soon as I remember that lady’s name, I’m going to send her a lovely greeting card.
Maybe efforts like these fail to stick in my memory because I don’t see the direct benefit. Employees from the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas will come and pick up our donations, and we’ll never see those cans again, nor possibly give them a second thought. It’s a very efficient process, and our friends at the food bank — including its CEO, Christie Jordan, who is a CRA mom and a former board member here — excel at getting food into the hands of the people who need it most. I’m very thankful for that.
There are times, perhaps, when such efficiency blinds us to the importance of the work. That’s not criticism of the process, but rather an observation of human nature. For a few years, I was blessed to be part of a group that met weekly to feed hungry people in Paragould. It was eye-opening work. We learned so much about how the homeless and the working poor cobble together an existence from ingenuity, necessity, and the kindnesses of others. Their survival skills are remarkable, and so many of them make the very best of a bad situation. Without delving too deeply into politics, I saw none of those allegedly ubiquitous “welfare queens” buying steak and lobster with their food stamps. Were there people who took advantage of the social safety net and the kindness of others? Absolutely. But they were few and far between.
What I did encounter was a number of people, including veterans, sleeping under the Eight Mile Creek bridge in December. I met a senior citizen who lived in squalor, paying too much in rent for a roach-infested “apartment” that was really just a glorified (?) carport. I met a deaf woman who, with her children and the clothes on their backs, fled an abusive husband in Oklahoma, and when their car broke down in Paragould, had literally nowhere to turn except the homeless shelter. And, yes, I met more people than I could count who were drunk, high, or whose demons left them so severely damaged that they will never be able to contribute to society.
You might find some of those situations heartbreaking and others infuriating. Long ago, I stopped trying to ascertain who “deserved” help and who didn’t. When you think about it, no matter whether someone is a victim of circumstance or their own worst enemy, does that change whether they get hungry or thirsty? Does it mean I shouldn’t care whether they have basic shelter or clothing?
Knowing some of these people, being able to call them by name, rewired the way I think about providing help. Clearly, I’m still so selfish and dull as to forget to send canned goods when the school is collecting them, so I’m not exactly Mother Teresa here. But when I see those canned goods now, I can think about some people I know for whom each can of beans is a lifeline — simple, decent, nutritious, and free. It may not change their lives forever, but if it changes it for a few hours, alleviating hunger pangs from a long list of other problems they face, then isn’t that something? Isn’t it worthy of my time and energy?
I hope you’ll be better than I am about remembering to send food this week. I’ll also encourage you to take another step, by volunteering at a food bank or any local organization that helps you put a face and a story with these canned goods.