A Hunger Within: Continued from Last Week

The kind people of the Alameda Food Bank always speak respectfully, warmly, to us, the hungry. They see my kids and ask if we’d like the sweetened cereal, the pudding cups, a lollipop. They give me an extra ration of oatmeal. They carry my box to the car. They say "Take care now." It is almost more than I can bear. I get in my car and drive away, lucky to have a car, lucky I don’t have to take the bus to the warehouse and home again on a raw winter day.

In this story, I am an educated woman whose circumstances have placed me in jeopardy. My children are hungry, too, so they get the free lunch at school, a fact that just a year before would have made me squirm with shame. Rather, I’m grateful to the school district; I am grateful to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the county and state and the federal government for their lunch programs and surplus food.

We, the working poor, are not helpless — we don’t get food stamps, we aren’t on welfare; we’re getting by, trying to build a business, a future. My kids wear clean clothes and see a dentist and we read books and make do with what we have. If I had a place to grow a garden, for tomatoes and green onions and zucchini, I would, but our backyard is concrete with a little bit of dirt that the cats in the neighborhood have fouled.

Instead, every Wednesday when the sale papers come, I read through the drugstore ads and see where canned vegetables are on sale, where I can get a case of Top Ramen for $2 or Pop-Tarts for a dollar. I go to the bakery outlet over the Park Street Bridge and get their Flav-R-Ade, which at a dollar for 12 packets is cheaper than Koolaid and much cheaper than juice. I get the cheap white bread instead of the healthy whole grain because that’s what I can afford. I keep my eye open for the man selling the sacks of oranges or watermelon from his truck, and debate over whether I should get two bags for $5 and how fast we can eat them, or is it worth the risk of spoilage? Because $5 is a lot to spend when there is no budget for food.

I go to the Food Bank when it’s my turn again, and I bless the good people of Trader Joe’s, whose generous donations offer the pleasure of Greek olives, hummus, sushi and edamame to hungry people who might enjoy an occasional break from the endless starch that is our diet. Sometimes there are houseplants or bunches of flowers, and I can’t tell you how many times my kitchen was brightened by a slightly bruised bouquet from Trader Joe’s, courtesy of the Alameda Food Bank.

This is not a sob story. This is just a face on the reality of hunger in your town. The hungry are not nameless strangers with dirty clothes and unkempt children. They are working right alongside you, turning down your offer to buy their coffee because it feels too much like charity. There are hungry people in your child’s classroom, who take the free or reduced lunch because it is there, and they are grateful to have it, but not proud of it. There are hungry people in your neighborhood, who are blessed by the kindness of the angels at Alameda Meals on Wheels or the congregate meal sites at Mastick Senior Center or Trinity Lutheran Church.

There is hunger all around us, on the Island City, here in your town, and though I am glad to say we are not quite as hungry as we once were, we will never forget the kindness and dignity offered to us at the Alameda Food Bank.

Please give generously to food drives this holiday season, and make your donation something you’d like to eat if you were hungry — or even if you weren’t.

Julia Park Tracey is Alameda’s Poet Laureate. Find her at Twitter@juliaparktracey, Facebook/Alameda Poet Laureate; or www.