Coastal Voices- Hunger: Our ugly neighbor

May 22, 2007 11:00 pm

Got food? The family next door might not.

June 5 is National Hunger Awareness Day. If you have never been introduced to hunger, please allow me the dishonor. If you are no stranger to hunger, you know he is no friend.

I once went on a three-day fast. I'd heard a lot about fasting from the Bible, from accounts of ascetics, and from health and fitness readings. So for both spiritual and health reasons I decided to give fasting a try. While it is not recommended for beginners to fast for more than 24 hours, being a young, vigorous fellow, confident in my self-discipline capacities, I thought I could skip the beginner's stuff and go straight into a three day fast.

Less than a full day into it, something quickly caught my attention: I became unexpectedly fixated on food. Hamburger and tomato-filled buns began floating through my imagination. My sense of smell was piqued, catching the slightest aroma of any food item passing within range. While my fast was partly a spiritual exercise intended to diminish my focus on material matters, I was becoming infatuated with the very thing I intended to ignore – food. I smelled it, dreamed of it, fantasized about it, and salivated at the thought of it. In the absence of food I became a food fanatic. Focus on all other things was squeezed out of my mind and body.

While I could and ultimately did satiate my hunger by simply opening my kitchen cupboard, for many people that is not an option. For many of our neighbors, hunger is not voluntary. It is not part of an experiment, spiritual exercise, or health quest. Their cupboards are empty. Their pockets are empty. Their bellies are empty. And the hunger gnaws.

Let me tell you about some of these real life encounters with hunger. While I've changed the names to protect privacy, the following are just a few of the stories we hear every day at Community Assistance Network.

Linda, a senior citizen, says, "Once while homeless in a small town in Oregon, I went five days without a meal other than little bites of food I found in dumpsters. I learned that after that long without food a person can almost hallucinate, dreaming about food. It's all you can think about. I'm now glad I had the experience but I'm even more grateful that I have food in my cupboards."

Mitch, a volunteer and donor who has health issues, says, "I was hungry as a child. It stays in my head more than any other experience of growing up."

Rebecca, a mother with health problems who is also supporting her family and has difficulty paying her bills, says: "We were relocated out of state by a victim witness program. We've been cold, scared, and hungry. Thank you for your help."

Amy, who has health difficulties, says, "I have over the past years went without food in order to feed my children."

Melanie, a senior who lives on a fixed income, has health issues and difficulty paying her bills says, "I have difficulty because I am diabetic. Sometimes I don't eat because I don't have food and this makes my glucose level drop."

Randy, who has health problems and difficulty paying his bills, says, "I have times when I don't have food. I have stomach problems, ulcers etc. ... I need to keep my vitamin D and calcium levels up because I have had my right leg amputated."

These are your neighbors; my neighbors. Seniors on fixed incomes, children, the documented disabled, single moms supporting families, the working poor. Hunger does not discriminate.

There's a lot you can do to fight hunger in our community:

•Donate money – All monetary contributions are tax deductible.To donate, simply call Alice at 707-464-9190, ext.101, email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , or send your check to: Community Assistance Network, 355 Standard Veneer Road, Crescent City, CA 95531.

•Donated goods – All non-monetary donations are also tax deductible.We accept a wide range of such donations, including: automobiles, real estate, clothing, household goods, furniture, artwork and estates.

•Volunteer – We have volunteer opportunities in several areas, such as greeters, salesclerks, cashiers, clothing bank, food bank warehouse, community gardens and fundraisers. CallKelly Abernathy-Blaggat 464-9190.

Douglas C. Morgan is executive director of the Commun-ity Assistance Network.