While I was setting up my table Monday night, a boy, smiling so hard that I could count how many baby teeth he was missing, approached me. He could hardly contain himself. “Are you Corey’s Mom?”
“I am,” I told him. “Do you go to his school?”
He nodded gleefully. “I’m in his class!” He told me his name and it immediately rang a bell. According to the growth chart on the wall in their classroom, he is the only kid shorter than mine, by about a 1/3 of an inch. It’s something that a life long shorty commits to memory.
I smiled and chatted with the little guy until the line started moving and he ran back to his Mom. I held my breath for a moment, wondering what side of the table his Mom was on. To my dismay, they were in line to eat not to serve.
I know better than to be surprised by this.
“Food insecure” is the term used to describe the 297,000 people in the Greater Las Vegas Area that don’t get enough food to eat. Forty percent of those people are children, just like my son’s friend. The rest may be elderly people on a fixed income, they may be disabled and a large portion are the working-poor.
Many of the food insecure lead outwardly normal lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no zip code in the valley that is free from hunger. In the most affluent neighborhoods in the greater Las Vegas area there are still people going without food. My neighborhood is pretty squarely middle class, so of course there are people in need, close to home.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Las Vegas has the biggest shortage of affordable, available homes for rent, out of any metropolitan area in the United States. For every one hundred households that are deemed “extremely low-income” there are only twelve affordable, rental units available. The national average is thirty-five units available per one hundred households. To be considered extremely low income, a household’s annual income must fall below thirty-percent of the area median income. In Clark County that means a family of four earning less than $24,300. A person earning the minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, working full-time, would only earn $17,160.00. In order to pay for a modest, one bedroom apartment in Las Vegas, a minimum wage worker would have to put in seventy hours a week.
For the hundreds of people we feed every Monday night, and the thousands served by people like us, getting themselves and their loved ones a hot meal from a friendly face is a big relief. Having someone recognize you and smile, is an uncommon comfort and it is the very least that we can do.
My son being on one side of the table and his friend being on the other is just an example of privilege. They go to the same school, which means that they live in the same neighborhood. They’re the same age, the same grade and my son isn’t somehow outperforming his classmate. He didn’t do anything to earn his dinner at home that night. Truth be told, I wish that Corey was with me when his classmate arrived because he may have learned something about his privilege. He needs to know about it. He needs to know that when you are born with undeserved advantages, you have an obligation to those born without those privileges.
I was able to provide this kid with a little familiarity and sneak him a few extra granola bars. He provided me with a reminder that food insecurity is never more than a few feet away. Hunger affects kids just like mine and families much like mine.