UPDATE: Click here to read “Valley Hunger Pains,” the first story in a three-part series examining the importance of free, healthy summer lunches for children across the San Joaquín Valley. The second story in the series, “Nutrition for the brain,” can be found here.
As a reporter, I sometimes see things that shake me. On Tuesday, I had one of those experiences.
I went to Orange Cove – a city in Fresno County of about 10,668 people, 90.6 percent of whom are Latino – to visit the summer nutrition program there.
I had heard that the free breakfast and lunches provided in Orange Cove’s Eaton Park are often the most nutritious meals the children eat each day. I knew that hunger and food insecurity are important issues in the San Joaquin Valley’s rural communities – in fact, I had blogged about it recently.
And yet, when I put faces – children’s faces – to these facts, I was shocked.
I met a 10-year-old girl who brings her five younger siblings to the park almost every day for breakfast and lunch. She is one of 10 children, and they live with their parents in a two-bedroom home.
When lunch was served, her siblings – who were as young as three and four years old – quietly ate their crackers, hardboiled egg, string cheese, and baby carrots. Finally, her 3-year-old brother saw I was taking photos of him, and started giggling and posing with his chocolate milk and egg.
I met a young mother who brings her 1-year-old daughter to the park for breakfast and lunch every day. The mother receives food stamps – but sometimes they run out, she said, so it’s a relief to know there is free food available, and her baby is not going to go hungry.
She told me she enjoys coming to the park daily – especially to see the “big ol’ smiles” on kids’ faces when they receive their meals.
The people I met this afternoon – and their stories – hung on my heart all day. And when I went grocery shopping that night, the weight of the experience became even heavier.
I saw a small girl with pigtails, in a sweet black ballet leotard and ruffled skirt, standing next to her mother in the produce aisle. In her little voice, the girl asked for strawberries and blueberries and raspberries and blackberries.
I was reminded of the injustice: That the children of the people who picked those berries have to stand in line for a nutritious meal, and don’t have the luxury of choosing cartons of fresh berries. And that a person’s health is greatly influenced by where they live, and what resources they have available to them.
So what can we do? Be grateful for what we have, everyday. Be thankful to the people that are picking and harvesting the fruits and vegetables we eat every day.
If you want to do more, consider donating your time or resources to a local food bank. Through FoodLink forTulare County, for example, you can sponsor a child’s meals for the whole summer – for about $34.