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Brianna, Joe and Nancy: Stories from a Loaves & Fishes Pantry

Fall always makes me think of hay bales, corn stacks and pumpkins.  Then my thoughts move on to Thanksgiving dinner, cornbread dressing and sweet potato pie.  I have been blessed that I never missed a meal due to lack of food. Money may have been tight when I was young, but I liked having breakfast for dinner some nights, and I thought a grilled PBJ to be haute cuisine.

Many of our neighbors are not as lucky as I was.  For them, food insecurity is a chronic condition.  Housing—the cheapest apartments in Charlotte rent for $600 per month— and utilities may take up as much as 70% of a household’s income, leaving precious little for the other basics like food, transportation, and medicine. The cost of a medical emergency can be all it takes for a family to spiral down from barely making it to full-fledged poverty. Over 155,000 people in Mecklenburg County live at or below the poverty level, and over 40% of these individuals are children and seniors.   When we boil poverty down to numbers and percentages we may miss the connection that these are real people who want the same things out of their lives that we look for in ours.

The biggest difference between us is that I can afford to buy the food I want to eat and they can’t.

Take Brianna, a 7 almost 8 year old who wants to be a doctor and a dancer.  She wants to be a doctor because she likes science and she wants to help people and a dancer because dancing makes her happy.  She was excited that her mom chose a big box of Rice Krispies because that is Brianna’s favorite cereal.

Joe lost his job when he was in his early 60’s.  He has asthma and was never able to find another job.  He lived off of his savings until he could take his Social Security.  His medical costs, especially his medicine, are so high that some months he has to go to a Loaves & Fishes pantry to make ends meet.

Nancy is a widow on a fixed income.  She and her husband put two children through college and another through nursing school.  Her oldest son took a fall at work and hopes to get disability but at the moment he is struggling with too much house and high medical costs, so his two young children are living with Nancy until he sells the house and finds more affordable housing.  Her grandson plays sports, and by the time Nancy paid for all of the fees and equipment, she didn’t have enough money for groceries last month.

Brianna, Joe and Nancy are real people who have shared their stories with me as I  volunteered in a Loaves & Fishes pantry.  We are more alike than we are different. We like some of the same music and most of the same foods. We are all dog people.  We have the same hopes for a victorious Panthers’ season and an uneventful hurricane season.  We like working in the yard and planting flowers but not mowing grass.

The biggest difference between us is that I can afford to buy the food I want to eat and they can’t.

It seems to me that we make the most progress on our problems when we focus on similarities and not differences. The kind of energy we put into finding a solution is as important as the resources we use to get there. I want to help not just because I can afford to, but also because I enjoy my good fortune more when my friends and neighbors have some, too.

Shay Merritt

Loaves & Fishes Volunteer and Food Drive Coordinator