By Jean Blish Siers *
When the weather turns cold, as it’s been the last few weeks, with temperatures dipping to single digits at night and hovering near freezing during the day, I start to stew. And bake and sauté and simmer. I might have chicken broth bubbling on the stove while bread rises on the counter and a pie bakes in the oven.
Since I was a little girl growing up in Minnesota, winter was a time of being cozy around the stove, helping my mom bake a cake or a pan of rolls, learning to make soup or hotdish, or how to roast a chicken. It felt good to have the stove and oven working away, and we were warmed in many different ways by the activity: There was the physical heat from the stove, the warmth of keeping busy, and the comfort of knowing we would soon have good, homemade food in our stomachs. And there was the added comfort of knowing this was a family activity, doing things together with my sister and my mother, usually.
According to Feeding America’s “2014 Hunger in America Study,” 75% of those who utilize food banks have had to choose between buying food and paying for heat. That doesn’t sound as cozy, does it? For them, a cold snap isn’t an opportunity; it’s a threat. But those choices are a reality to about one in five North Carolina residents. Poverty forces people to choose between food and medicine, or medicine and shelter, or shelter and transportation. It forces parents to pass up meals so their children have something to eat. None of this is healthy, and none of this should be acceptable in a nation as wealthy as ours.
There are lots of agencies working hard to patch together food for our neighbors, from food banks and pantries, to meals on wheels, and farmers who now accept SNAP benefits to try to get fresh produce to those in need. Society of St. Andrew has been working for decades to get produce that would go to waste onto the plates of those who need it most. It requires a lot of logistics and thousands of hours of time from dedicated volunteers.
I’m thankful that there are people who make the choice to donate their money or their time or their excess produce to Society of St. Andrew. It makes the choices faced by the neediest among us a little easier. Here’s hoping, during the chilly days of Lent, that someday our neighbors won’t need to make those choices, that good food will be readily available, and affordable, to all.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator, and a regular contributor to this News & Events blog.