A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Breaking Bread

Brrrrr! The weather is getting colder, and so are the hearts of the politicians in Washington, who just slashed $5 billion from the food stamp program. That means a cut of $36 per month for a family of four.

$36 may not seem like much, but for thousands of children in Alameda County, it means going to bed the last few days of each month with an empty stomach aching from hunger.

For senior citizens, it means having to choose between buying food or buying the medicine they need.

Politicians are fond of blaming the poor for the own misery, but what do children do to deserve this?

Or seniors, who believed the promises that their pensions would be waiting for them, only to see those pensions mysteriously disappear into some corporate bank account in the Cayman Islands?

Or the working poor, who rarely see their children because they're forced to work two or even three low-paying jobs to keep food in those children's mouths and a roof over their heads?

Or the families of soldiers who are defending our country in some very dangerous places abroad while their loved ones are going hungry back home. A pretty shabby reward for their service, don't you think?

That's why it's more important than ever for you and me to step up and try to fill the gap by donating to the Alameda County Food Bank, which serves a whopping quarter of a million people each year, two-thirds of them children or seniors.

The Food Bank isn't a single place. It's actually the hub of a vast collection and distribution network that provides food through 275 food pantries, soup kitchens, libraries, and childcare and senior centers throughout the county.

Wherever there are people in need, that's where the Food Bank goes, including sending Mobile Pantries to so-called "food deserts" - neighborhoods that don't have any grocery stores or other outlets for fresh, healthy foods, just liquor stores and fast-food chains.

Or the Free Summer Lunch program, created by a Food Bank volunteer named Michael Ross, which distributes free lunches to kids at local library branches. It's a win-win: The kids get both nutritional and educational enrichment while the libraries get an increase in memberships and summer use.

Another volunteer, Elizabeth Gomez, created the CalFresh (that's what food stamps are called in California) Hotline, which helps county residents wend their way through the state bureaucracy to get assistance. Last year, 80 percent of the people who were aided by this program had their applications approved, compared to only a 68 percent approval rate countywide.

If you'd like to help, you can go online at www.accfb.org or send a check to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, 7900 Edgewater Drive, Oakland CA 94621.

"This is a very critical time for us," says spokesman Mike Altfest. "In an ideal world we would get consistent support year-round, but most of our support comes at this time of year, during the holiday season. These next two months will determine how we operate the rest of the year."

Gandhi was right: "The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members."

And so was Jesus: "Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me."

Happy Thanksgiving.

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