In an article today in the Washington Post entitled “Growing threat of hunger in a wealthy region is blunt example of economic inequality,” reporter Robert McCartney captures poignant snapshots of the ‘other’ pandemic our region faces: hunger. His Exhibit A is not Silver Spring or inner-city DC or Prince George’s county. Not it’s right next door:
“A steady stream of cars turned into the Gaithersburg Middle School parking lot Thursday afternoon, each to pick up two cardboard boxes of free groceries to keep a household from going hungry. Many of the clients only began coming this year, when the combination of the pandemic and the recession forced them to rely on charity from the Manna Food Center. ‘I started when I lost my job cleaning houses,’ said Esmirna Garcia Flores, 24. She still finds some work, but her monthly income has dropped from about $2,000 to $600. The food pantry allows her to feed her two daughters, ages 7 months and 4 years. ’It’s more for my daughters. I just think about them,’ she said.”
Here are two more:
“Victor Young, 54, an unemployed Air Force veteran with lupus, needs the help to provide meals for his two grandchildren, ages 7 and 8. He’s caring for them while their mother, who also has other children, is at risk of being homeless. Young was working in retail until the store closed during the pandemic. His unemployment checks ran out three months ago. ‘I use a couple of different food banks,’ he said. ‘It helps absorb the void of not having.’ ”
“ ‘I lost my job in March,’ cleaning rooms at a Rockville hotel, Anyi Gajardo said. Her husband, who installs flooring, is getting less work than before. She would seek a new job herself, but she has to stay home with her children. ‘I don’t have anybody to leave them with,’ Gajardo said.”
He goes on to lift up statistics that have come to lose their shock value in 2020: food insecurity disproportionately affects Latinos, African Americans and other racial minorities; the pre-pandemic 400,000 people in the DMV short on food has now bumped up to 600,000, thanks to COVID.
I quote this article for two reasons:
1) So you volunteers who have been coming week in and week out – picking up boxes of food and dropping them off at doorsteps – remember what it’s all for, that people aren’t just bilking the system or being lazy about shopping; that it matters; and
2) To inspire us to imagine a Montgomery County without hunger and without homelessness, with systems and structures in place that allow blue-collar and white-collar alike to thrive side-by-side, where a living wage is not out of reach, where there is enough food for everyone.
This may seem out of place during this holiday season, but it’s not. In the famous song of Mary that Christians have come to call the Magnificat, the mother of Jesus prophecies that her son’s birth would be about “lifting up the lowly” and “filling the hungry with good things.”
In the end, feeding the hungry is about as appropriate a holiday tradition as decking the halls.