Friday, November 17, 2006

My newest column

This is up on our website right now. I thought I'd post it here as well.
If you like it, my column by clicking here. Leave a comment, so my bosses will know that someone reads my stuff.

At this time of year, do Americans truly know the meaning of hunger?
By Kaylea Hutson
As I drove home a few days ago, I passed by multiple restaurants, fast food establishments, grocery stores and other places where anyone with money can purchase food.

For a mere $1 at some places, I can buy a variety of items. Obviously, more money equals more food.

Without money, I can rely on services provided by local non-profit organizations such as Crosslines, Watered Gardens and the Salvation Army.

At a certain income level, I can even utilize government assistance to provide food
for my family and myself.

In America, there are lots of resources available to ensure that people do not go hungry.

That's not the case in other countries.

During my recent trip to Brazil, I saw first hand the effects of hunger.

This included young children who look smaller than their age, because they have suffered malnutrition for an extensive period of time.

I also witnessed women and children standing on the side of the road, begging for pocket change as cars stopped at red lights.

One instance, I hope stays burned in my memory, happened when a car I was riding in pulled up along side a young boy, maybe six or seven, begging for change. What made the image so heart wrenching is that he held his infant sibling in his arms.

I do not have a recorded image of the young boy, because in a split second I realized I could either take a photograph or dig for money. I let my heart decide and I chose giving him money.

Later in the trip, I saw what I assume is his mother, holding the same infant, watching her young son plead with passing motorists for change. This time, I was not in a position to give money (I was sitting in the rear of a Kombi.) So I took the picture that appears with this column today.

The woman's eyes are haunting, because there is a desperation that seems to resonate deep within her soul.

According to Alda, the college student who served as my Brazilian translator, families often beg to subsidize the limited amount of money provided by the government each month-about $15 Reals (or roughly $7 American dollars) per child.

Some women without financial support turn to other options, including prostitution, to feed their children.

Another instant, which reminded me of America's blessings, took place at the boys' orphanage I visited outside of Maceio.

While the 20 boys living at the facility know they will have three basic, simple meals each day, extras like sorvette (ice cream), pizza or even cake, are considered luxuries.

During our stay, we purchased several quarts of ice cream and the related toppings, to create a "sundae bar" for the boys.

It wasn't really that unusual. I've made similar "spreads" for youth groups I've worked with in the states.

The boys' eyes grew wide as they realized that they could not only have a scoop of two different flavors of ice cream, but they could also have bananas, chocolate sprinkles and a mixture of chocolate and strawberry toppings.

They grew even more excited as they learned that their treat included seconds (and for some thirds). It's amazing how much ice cream 20 boys can eat in less than 30 minutes.

Towards the end of the party, one young boy, Henrique, came in for seconds. We did not give it a second thought, and gave him an additional treat.

We finished putting everything away, boiled water to wash our dishes and prepared to leave the kitchen.

There we were greeted with a heart breaking sight.

Henrique was so excited about having the ice cream that he was sitting at the table, slowly finishing his sundae. By now, the ice cream had turned into a chocolate puddle. He didn't care. It was still a treat and he was going to enjoy every spoonful.

Most American children would have turned their nose up at what Henrique was savoring.

I realize we have hunger in America. I know people suffer when their incomes only stretch so far, and can barely cover rent and utilities.

In Joplin the number of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch is growing each year.

But I also know this. In America, we take for granted that there will be food to purchase or donations to receive.

I know as I sit down to Thanksgiving this year, I'll encourage my family to think less about "filling" ourselves to the brim, and instead focus on the fact that we are together.

I also plan to find ways to continue to give back to the community. Because, as one Brazilian friend phrased it "America has been blessed by God."

How will you use your blessing this holiday season?

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