Society & Culture, Practice & Voice, Uncategorized

Gratitude, Hold the Peanuts

When my daughter fractured her ankle this summer, I panicked. Having my only child endure the painful ordeal of her first real injury was very stressful. But that isn’t why I panicked. To be honest, I wasn’t even particularly worried about the cost of possible surgeries and other medical expenses. The real reason I freaked out was because of food.

You’re probably thinking, “What on Earth does a child’s broken bone have to do with food?” When you are among the working poor, the two can coincide in unexpected ways. As a public school teacher and single mother, I struggle financially. I have no credit cards, no financial “safety nets,”and I only get paid once a month.

In my household, this means going through a period I call “the lean weeks” every month.  This is the week-and-a-half to two weeks before my monthly paycheck comes in – all the bills have been paid but my food budget takes a major hit. During the lean weeks, we just have to make do – one-pot meals like chili or spaghetti, limited fresh fruits and veggies, and lots of leftovers.

It was during the lean weeks that my daughter fractured her left ankle. So yes, I panicked. I knew it would be really tough helping her with pain and limited mobility while I was also trying to finagle something decent to fill her belly.

I reached out to friends via social media, and one of the responses I received was a reminder. “Hey, you have a church family.” That’s RIGHT! I’d been a member of All Souls for less than a year, so it didn’t even occur to me to contact the Pastoral Care Team. I’m glad I did. Within a few days, I’d been given a generous donation of food that included all the pantry-safe staples: pasta, sauce, canned fruit and veggies, peanut butter – plenty of food to help us get by until payday. It was a huge relief, and I was very grateful.

Likewise, I was grateful for the scholarship my daughter received to attend Camp Egypt at All Souls just a few weeks later. It felt like everything worked out perfectly. My child was wheeling around on her knee-scooter, ready to have fun at camp, and I actually had enough food to send her with lunch every day -peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Everything but the bread came from my church’s own food bank – just in time.

My daughter came home after the first day of camp and told me her sandwich had been confiscated…Umm, WHY? Because they weren’t allowed to bring any peanut products to camp. Umm, WHY? Because some people have peanut allergies. So, the exact same peanut butter I just received from my church’s food bank got discarded at my church’s camp.

I attended public schools all my life. I was raised in a church that did camps and the notorious Vacation Bible School. Peanut allergies aren’t new. I had classmates, teachers, friends, with peanut allergies. I don’t remember anyone being barred from bringing their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school or church because of it. You know what happened? People with peanut allergies simply didn’t eat or get served peanut products.

Peanut butter is often a life saver in poor communities because it’s cheap, it’s filling, it’s a good source of protein and kids tend to like it. I’m not championing the product itself (though I do like it), but rather challenging the incredibly privileged position of a community that can just ban a particular food from a space because others might be allergic to it. I have a pretty scary almond allergy but I don’t see anyone banning those. The assumption is that members of All Souls can afford to just pack something else for their kids to eat and honestly, most probably can. But I couldn’t. And I’m probably not the only one.

[Editor’s note: Inspired by our November theme of Gratitude, we wanted to spark a larger conversation on Socio-Economic barriers in our church community. For many of our members, when they donate to charity, collect and distribute food, or talk about disadvantaged citizens in our community, they are thinking of those outside our congregation. Coming Out of the Food Pantry is an attempt to “break the ice” on the subject of income inequality at All Souls.
For an informed and open-hearted exchange about class, attend the upcoming course, Classism, lead by Rev. Barbara Prose and some of our writers, launching early 2016.]

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