Vocabulary Lesson

Food insecurity—the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports—is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.—USDA Economic Research Service

The USDA definition of “food insecurity” is clinical and sterile—which by nature is what we are going for with a definition. We want something to assess the situation, explain things clearly without any emotional or personal quality. In English class, I didn’t do so well with vocabulary. In fact, most of the time I had to do a word picture that would help me remember the definition.

This weekend I had a vision of food insecurity. It didn’t come from a book. It came in the form of a single serve pop-top can of ravioli. It happened to be in the backpack of a young man that stayed the weekend with us. When we got to our house, he immediately tore open the brown bag in his back pack. He took out each item. You would’ve thought it was Christmas morning. He took out a healthy version of a pop tart, sunbutter, bbq garbanzo beans, healthy chips, two juice boxes, and then there were three pop-top cans of ravioli type food. With each item, his eyes lit up. I started cooking supper. He said it smelled great and kept coming over to see how it was going. But I noticed something; he kept carrying around a can of ravioli. He said he would eat it instead of supper. By the time supper was on the table, he sat that can of ravioli by his plate and with a little coaxing he begin to eat the food we had just cooked. As the night went on, even though he had clearly had enough chicken and veggies to fill up one leg, he still broke from his play to return to the table every so often and check on that unopened can of ravioli. Today my buddy traveled with me to a meeting, while I convinced him there would be food there and I had already fixed him two chocolate chip pancakes, guess what? Yep, that can of ravioli HAD to come with us. It’s now 7:13pm, we have already had supper, and the can still sits within arm’s-length of our weekend friend.

The rest of the story: Up until about 3 months ago, he lived in a tent with his Mom and siblings. Before that his family lived out of their car. His Mom has always tried to do her best. She used every resource available to help keep her children fed, clothed, and safe but according to her little one, there were times where the food options were thin. She had to spend this weekend at Children’s Hospital with her older son and we were fortunate enough for her to ask us to keep her youngest. We have had a blast getting to know him better. And we’ve learned a lot about food insecurity. We’ve also learned a lot about what happens when a child who has truly experienced hunger reacts to receiving a backpack full of food for the weekend.

We started helping and expanding the Empower Youth Tiger Pack program for kids like our little visitor this weekend. Watching his face as he opened his pack was confirmation that we are doing the right thing. Yes, I’m sure that there are children who abuse the program and perhaps just waste the food or even trade it for something else on the school bus going home. I even got word that a can of our Vienna sausages has fed a cat or two. But for this child and his family, this pack is more than food—it’s the assurance that he will able to play this weekend without worrying about from where his next meal will come.

PS: I am so thankful for the New Richmond School and for the folks who recognize this great need. This young man’s pack came from them—and it was packed full! Great job!

If you’d like to help with this program, please email our team at toempoweryouth@gmail.com. We can use monetary and food donations as well as volunteers.


Lori Conley

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