It is so easy to take things for granted, to forget that what we have in our lives is not a given. Until something reminds us.
For me, that happened on a recent weekend when I attended a training at my church for an organization called Family Promise. Their goal is to help homeless families get back on their feet, and they do this by working with churches who volunteer to host families for a week at a time.
As part of the training, we went through a budget exercise. We were given a roll of Smarties, which usually contain 15 candies, and we had to decide how to spend our candy money across 8 categories. Each category a low (1 candy), medium (2 candies), and high (3 candies) price options – but even the “high” was quite modest.
For instance, for a family of four our food options were: spend 1 candy to get one meal a day, 2 candies for two meals, and 3 candies for three meals plus snacks.
At first, I splurged on food – it was the only thing I put three candies on, even above health care and better housing. It shows you where my priorities are. But as the exercise continued, we got candies taken away, due to rising costs, job loss, and medical emergencies. Soon I was down to one meal a day.
It broke my heart to think of the many families who make such decisions in real life. Food or rent? Utilities or transportation? Health care or childcare?
What made this all the more striking was going to work the following week. I don’t often eat the food provided in the office, so I don’t pay much attention to it. But after the training made me more sensitized to thinking about those hard decisions, I couldn’t help noticing how much we have. And how much goes to waste.
Every Tuesday we get two bags full of bagels, four containers of different flavors of cream cheese, and I think a dozen large muffins. One day a week we also get lunch provided, sometimes pizza and salad, sometimes bread, cold cuts, veggies and hummus, and usually dessert.
It never gets all eaten. I’ve taken to rescuing what I can to compost, so it at least isn’t going into trash, but I still struggle with it. We get paid quite well; we have enough to buy food. And still we have these free meals provided every week, without fail, while around us some people – and far too many children – go hungry.
There aren’t easy answers to this. But it does make me more committed to doing what I can to help, whether it be with Family Promise, Good Shepherd Food Bank, or Preble Street. It also helps me remember to be grateful, and not take anything for granted.