Being hungry would be a lot less painful if it wasn’t a secret.
For a while when I was 10-11 we lived in Guelph, in the student housing at the university. There were seven of us kids by then. First there was no money. And then there was no food. I went to 3 schools during that time, the last of which was College Ave and it was a short walk from home to school. You can only show up without a lunch so many times before nobody believes the forgetful bit so I started going home for “lunch”.
First it was the good food that disappeared. Then the easy food. The all the stuff at the back of the cupboard. At 11 it wasn’t really about hungry belly, it was somehow about justice. But having so many younger brothers and sisters, I could see plainly that sometimes it is about hungry belly.
I remember coming home one day, probably from the creek where I played with Merrie J, and finding my mother socially catatonic, the baby screaming, the youngest talker going “but why? why isn’t there any food?”
I remember coming home one day and seeing two of them fighting over the last piece of bread in a bag and I thought – “We had BREAD!?” Isn’t there some sort of unspoken rule in times of crisis that you divide it up evenly? or ration it? or share it? But what if the crisis becomes normal?
We eventually got evicted so that tells you how long our rent must have been overdue. And for how long the cupboards were bare. I remember trying to cash a cheque from an uncle. I was the banker in those days. Maybe we all were. I stood bawling at the counter, sent back three times to get CASH from the clerk who wanted to hold the cheque. “But it says GUARANTEED CERTIFIED!” She grilled me on what I was going to do with the money and when she understood that I was buying groceries gave me half of it.
I also remember going to Leaside High School in Toronto for grade eleven and twelve. Somehow the geography curriculum which I loved was hijacked in those days by a course about current events in which we learned that there are no poor people in Canada. I hated that class. How do you participate in something so stupid? And what’s the point?
Now at fourty-almost-two I can say that the only thing I truly suffer from is my own imagination, and that being hungry or broke is sometimes the consequence of the choices that I am making, like running my own business(es) instead of leveraging my letters for a stable (?) corporate job. But is that true when you’re a kid?
I wish I could find a way to say it loud and clear, once and for all; yes, there are hungry people even in Canada. Heaven help the people who think there aren’t. In my experience, you get an idea like that into your head and you learn the hard way that you’re wrong.
I’m not an expert on poverty or child hunger – it took me thirty years to get where I am now from the doorway of the townhouse full of wilted children draped over furniture like an Edvard Munch nightmare. Where I am now financially would make most people blush and send the mother-in-law into an apoplectic fit, but where I am now is in a place where my stability is not based on money, it’s based on a foundation of relationships that I can count on.
Like one neighbour, Julie, holding the fort at the cafe so I can run to the bank, and another, Deb, coming in to cafe-sit so I can do the shopping. Just this morning a brand new customer came into the cafe and within two minutes of talking he took it upon himself to password our WiFi. Thanks Alex! Welcome to the Heart of the Hammer! Where do these people come from?
Maybe you and I can’t feed everybody. Maybe the best what we can do is to not judge. But the least we can do is not silence the hungry voices by denying they exist.