No doubt, many of you of my generation will remember parents instructing us to eat all the food on our plates, motivating us into this act of “cleaning our plates” with major guilt trips. Specifically, they’d appeal to overseas guilt: “Just think about those poor children in India (or China) who would be glad to eat this food.”
As I look back on it, I don’t remember what concept I had about these children, although I would have gladly given the offending food to them. Food we liked went down easy. Food we didn’t want to eat, however, always brought up the specter of these starving children on the other side of the globe.
But that was then. Nowadays hungry children live all around us, thanks to a political system that has systematically picked away at the middle class and has now climaxed in an economic collapse that pushed those who remained, albeit precariously on the edge, decidedly into poverty. According to the 60 Minutes segment, Hard Times Generation: Homeless Kids, 25% of American children are now living in poverty. . . the largest generation since the Great Depression.
Since watching this, I am haunted by the vision and the words of a little boy describing how it feels to be hungry, to not being able to sleep at night because your stomach hurts so much. Nor can I forget the girl who talked about getting food from churches or the one who told about asking classmates for their uneaten food.
The children in this story by Scott Pelley are living in Seminole County, Florida, within an hour’s drive of Disneyworld. The irony, of course, is that Disneyworld is a children’s paradise of carnival rides while Seminole County school buses now make regular stops at the cheap motels to pick up students after losing their homes.
Those who still have houses describe having their electricity shut off for non-payment and having to study by candlelight, flashlights, or even the overhead lamps in a car. It should come to no one’s surprise that these children are struggling in school.
And there are the psychological effects. One young girl said she felt that it was her fault because her parents had to buy food and clothes for her. No, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s common reasoning among vulnerable children trying to protect their parents from their shortcomings or failures.
But, be aware, these problems are not confined to Florida. Last year, according to the group Green Doors, there were more than 5,000 homeless people on any given night in Austin and Travis County, 616 homeless families with children, and 3,000 to 5,000 homeless AISD students. Furthermore, the average age of the Austin homeless person is 7 years old. Surely, their faces are just as sad and troubled as those children in Seminole County.
I don’t know how any Wall Street executive or banker can sleep at night knowing that they have been bailed out with government funds – only to get richer than ever – while these children get more destitute and hungrier.
I also wonder how members of congress are sleeping at night, having just extended a tax cut to millionaires for another 2 years while the parents of these children lost jobs, their houses, and now, their dignity. Why is it too much to ask for a little sacrifice from those who have gotten all the breaks in the last 10 years? If only someone in Washington would worry about the starving children of America like they worry about millionaires who threaten to hijack the economy if they don’t get their tax breaks.
Must those children depend solely on the charity we “little people” can give? How much can we feasibly accomplish when the forces in charge of this country have doomed the economic system that used to allow for most people – not just the very rich – to make a decent living? How can we keep our cash-strapped state governments from abandoning these children’s future, along with their present, by withdrawing support to public education?
Would giving more to the Capital Area Food Bank assure that no child goes to bed hungry? I don’t even know where the food bank is….does it have branches? Is it convenient for the homeless to visit? I realize how little I know about it beyond being an regular contributor. I should learn more.
There’s something so wrong about this situation. I see the faces of these children and they aren’t living in India. They are in the United States of America, Land of Plenty, Land of Opportunity, Land of the Free and the Brave. And now Land of National Shame.
I wonder whether Mitch McConnell ever urges his grandchildren to clean their plates in the name of the poor starving children in America.