Post # 250 “I’m Hungry,” he said. — Revisited

May 7, 2014 at 12:49 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 250 “I’m Hungry,” he said. — Revisited

Last year at this time, and the year before, I wrote a fictional account of a young boy who was hungry and went into a diner asking for food.  He was at the end of his rope and didn’t know what else to do.  I wrote that “I” was in the diner and bought the boy some food and set up an ongoing process for him to be fed.  It was fictional.  It was a “story.”  It was a lie, a fiction.  It never happened.

But it was based, partially, on a truth.

I had a friend named Donna King.  She is no longer with us.  I don’t think she would mind if I shared this.

Donna was a unique person.  I never knew her entire life’s story, or even a small part of her life’s story.  I knew only the parts she chose to share with me.  Those parts are precious.  No one else in my experience embodied the concept of “Christian Charity” the way Donna did.  And because of her influence in my life, and those other lives she touched, she still does.  I was thirteen and she was in her early 40’s when we became friends.  It was such a unique and special friendship that no one ever questioned it.  This was in the early ’70s.  Back then, we didn’t have the same kind of worries and concerns that face parents these days.  It wasn’t Mayberry, but it wasn’t the worst of Chicago/New York/Los Angeles either.

Donna and I did a lot of things together.  We were “kindred spirits” (for those who have read Anne of Green Gables) right from the start.  We loved the same things and the same activities.  She would teach me things without letting me know she was teaching me things.  One thing we did a lot was walking.  We walked for miles and miles, through every kind of countryside our little desert town offered.  Of course, while we walked, we talked.  She was the best sounding board a young, impressionable, creative, and sensitive young man could ask for.  Some of my most tentative ideas grew to monumental strengths as she listened to me with full acceptance.  Some of my “greatest” ideas died a silent, remorseless death in her silence.

I always made certain that she knew the impact she had on my life.  I told her often, “If there’s anything in me that you can be proud of, please know that you are the author of that.”

One day when I was in my early 20’s, I was at her house.  She had just returned from a trip up north to see her family and she told me of an incident that happened when she stopped at a small diner.  She was sitting at the counter, having a cup of coffee and a sandwich.

“A young kid came in, Joey,” she said.  “He looked like he was backpacking across the country.  He was scraggly but he was clean.  He ordered a plate of beans and some corn bread.”

My mouth watered.  Beans and corn bread is one of my favorite meals.  Butter melting on top of the corn bread.  Beans in their own stock, with some kind of pork floating around, usually bacon.  It doesn’t come much better than that.  I’d made it for her; I’d made it for me; I’d made it for family; I’d made it for friends.  It’s GOOD STUFF!!

When the waitress put the bowl of beans in front of this young man, he looked up and said, “I’m very sorry.  I can’t pay for this.”

Donna said she was so stunned she couldn’t even react.  She could not think of a situation that would bring her to that point.

The waitress didn’t even sigh.  She just picked up the bowl and started to move away.  Donna told me that she got the impression that the waitress had been in that situation before and knew how to handle it.

Before Donna could react, a man on the other side of the young man spoke up.  “I’ll pay for it,” he said.  The waitress asked if he was sure and he nodded.  The other man asked if the younger man needed anything more.  Donna told me that for the first time she noticed that the younger man looked very hungry.  He asked if he could have a hamburger too, and the other man nodded.  Before he was done, the other man had given the younger man a bowl of beans and bacon, corn bread, unlimited soda, a hamburger and fries, and two pieces of cake.  And a sandwich to go.

Donna told me that she was so stunned she didn’t know how to respond.  She said the younger man ate every single scrap of food on all his plates.  Even the skins from the beans, and the crumbs from the corn bread.  She said she believed  that he would have licked his plates if he hadn’t been in a public place.

I was curious so I asked (as only someone who has that kind of close relationship can), “Would you have paid for his food?”

Her eyebrows rose as she considered the question.  “I suppose so if I hadn’t been so surprised.”

I knew the answer.  Donna would give the shirt off her back to someone she thought needed it.  I wasn’t surprised by the answer; I was gratified by the answer.

It made me love her more.  This “story” is true, to the best of my recollection.  It really happened.  A young man, about my age at that time, at the end of his rope, walked into a diner, ordered food he couldn’t pay for, hoping beyond hope that he was going to be fed.  Because he could not feed himself.

In my opinion, hunger is the worst thing a person can face.  In our country, children go to bed hungry every single day.  They don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  It’s a situation beyond their control.  We have a lot of programs in place to feed them.  Many of those are based on the education system.  “School’s out for the summer!” sang Alice Cooper.  Where does that leave our kids?

I have another friend.  She’s sweet; she’s my age; she’s religious.  Her church offers food to any who need it, once a month, in a sort of free grocery store.  A lot of charities in this area do that.  I think that’s a great thing.  They collect food all month long so they can give it away during those days, to anyone who needs it, wants it, can use it.  Every month, all year long.  She always makes certain that I know when it’s happening so I can help spread the word.  So I do.

Children in our country go hungry.  Every day.  It makes me want to cry.  We can only handle what we can handle but it just kills me.  I’m a cook.  I make food every day.  I feed my family every day.  Sometimes it’s just eggs and toast, but my family never goes hungry.  But some children within the sound of my voice will.  And it hurts me.  Crying doesn’t help.

But there are things we can do.  We can donate canned goods to whatever charity we choose.  We can purchase products that donate proceeds from our sales to community food outreach.  We can volunteer our time, our talents, our sweat to those organizations that are working to counteract the hunger that American children face every day.

Summer is coming.  School will be out soon.  Children who depend on school breakfast and lunch every day will be hungry.  There are things we can do to help that.  All it takes it a bit of our time; a bit of our effort; a bit of our commitment.  All it takes is us, or me.

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