High Desert Sketches: We are all essential

Art by Valerie “CrowCrumbs” Howard

More than a decade ago, I sent a letter to the management of a chain concerning the stockers and checkout clerks at their local store. I suggested that they give all the store’s personnel a raise to reward them for their hard work and friendly demeanor. I never got a reply. Only when the pandemic came along, did people in general start considering the grocery personnel as “essential.” Everyone concedes that doctors, nurses and all other medical personnel are essential, but they continue to act as though grocery store personnel only exist for the shoppers’ convenience. No one seems to understand that food is as essential as medical attention, and lack of food is becoming recognized as a problem in America.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level. Statistics from feedingamerica.org say before the coronavirus pandemic, 35 million experienced hunger; they combined analyses at the national, state, county and congressional district levels, which showed the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.

One “bad month” can be enough to plunge a household into food insecurity. Lay-offs at work, unexpected car maintenance or an accident on the job can suddenly force a family to choose between buying food and paying bills. Working families across America face countless situations that can result in food insecurity and hunger. That’s why many working families, including thousands of households who don’t qualify for federal nutrition assistance, depend on the Feeding America network of food banks to help make ends meet during difficult times. The Feeding America network serves nearly every community in the United States, helping more than more than 40 million people — including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.

Food assistance programs, such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), address barriers to accessing healthy food. Studies show these programs may reduce food insecurity.

Food insecurity can have a wide impact, depending on each individual’s circumstances. Some of the most common, yet complex, effects of food insecurity include:

  • serious health complications, especially when people facing hunger are forced to choose between spending money on food and medicine or medical care;
  • damage to a child’s ability to learn and grow; and
  • difficult decisions for seniors — often living on fixed incomes — such as choosing between paying for food and critical healthcare.

Food banks across America have seen an increase in clients, ranging from doubling to quadrupling. Dallas/Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Houston have seen cars waiting in lines stretching as long as four blocks, just waiting to avoid hunger. Many of those waiting in lines across Texas were once volunteers at the same food banks.

For more than six months, the Senate has stalled on House-passed legislation that would have continued unemployment relief. A number of high ranking Republican senators state publicly that it was unreasonable to give people $600 a week when they were making much less in their old jobs. I would like to point out that U.S. senators receive salaries of $174,000, plus expenses, and the best health insurance package this side of Wall Street executives.

The United States of America produces the greatest abundance of food in the history of the world, and yet we have a group of politicians that are causing the greatest food insecurity this country has had since the Great Depression. Maybe if we gave the Senators $600 a week, maybe they would develop an empathy for those people who do not make $3,346 a week like they do.