by Peggy Ingraham
Here in the Mid-Atlantic we have just experienced one of the most significant snowfalls in the past few years. It was the type of snow that left the trees dressed in what looked like frosting on a cupcake – the kind of scene captured in pictorial calendars and on greeting cards.
As I watched the snow accumulate, and drank in its beauty, my thoughts turned quickly to the birds (yes, I know this may sound ridiculous). “Where will they find enough to eat?” I wondered. And I immediately began to chide myself for not having considered them and included the suet and seed block on my grocery list when I was stocking up on provisions. But I hadn’t done so, so I had to scrounge around in the pantry to find something that might suffice. Oatmeal seemed the only reasonable choice, and I sowed it on the surface of my lower deck, partly protected by the one above, and waited for the avian diners to arrive. It took a while, but they did come…because they could.
Then, suddenly, the other questions confronted me. “What in the world is wrong with you?” I asked myself. “Why are you worrying about whether or not the birds are going without access to their usual food sources, when so many people are probably suffering the same hardship?” I thought first of the homeless, of course, and imagined the large numbers of them huddled under bridges and overpasses, sharing their semi-sheltered spaces with the pigeons.
But I also thought of the legions of seniors who live every day on the edge of hunger and the effect that the storm must be having to push them over it. What do I mean by “edge of hunger?” Something akin to the common phrase “living hand to mouth,” I suppose. Their resources are limited, and they have enough food, but barely enough, to make it through a typical week. They don’t have sufficient resources to stockpile provisions for several days or a week as weather-driven shut-ins, however. It was a stark realization.
And so was another one that came when I flipped on the television news to check out the latest weather forecast for the coming days. Broadcasts were covering stories about the impact of the government shutdown – a topic affecting thousands of workers in our area in direct and personal ways – and the fact that many of those employees who were temporarily going without pay were finding it difficult to put food on the table. A number of charitable organizations were setting up special feeding programs to help them out.
That led to me to focus on another reality, and one that we here at NFESH always hold close. There is a thin line between so-called “food security” and a tumble toward hunger. That is particularly true of seniors, who won’t eventually return to the workplace and earn their paychecks again. Or who won’t be heading back out to the supermarket today … because they can’t. They will have to wait out the thaw until it is safe enough to try to navigate the sidewalks and streets on the way there, if there even is a grocery store around the corner. There may not be, but regardless of where they live the real and serious threat of hunger surely might be lurking close by.
“That’s for the birds,” my mother, who loved the winged visitors as much as I, would say when someone came up with a wrong-headed thought. Put in the context of the everyday reality of “the edge of hunger,” my momentary obsession with worrying about the sparrows, cardinals and juncos was just that.
The snow will melt, spring will come, but unless we as a nation dedicate ourselves to acknowledging how real and pervasive senior hunger is in this great land of plenty, and also to recognizing how many other elders tiptoe along its edge, this storm will only gather strength. Understanding that, we at NFESH believe that failing to take concerted and aggressive action to prevent and ameliorate it is plainly “for the birds.”