Fighting Hunger “on the ground” and “in the air”
By Craig Nash
From the moment their son Bennett was born and they discovered he had Cystic Fibrosis, my friends Breck and Brian have worked tirelessly to provide him with the tools necessary not just to survive, but to thrive with the chronic disease. Daily protocols of medication and time spent in “The Vest,” a contraption used to clear mucus from Bennett’s airways, take up much of their time and energy. In addition to this, hospital stays have become a part of life in their household. At the same time they are tending to his immediate needs, the Gamels have also taken on the cause of finding a cure for CF,– participating in fundraising walks (hundreds are part of Bennet’s Brigade,) educating the public on CF, advocating for research dollars, and working to ensure that “the system” works for Bennett and others with the disease.
Breck and Brian fight like hell today to keep the 6 year old Bennett alive, but also to ensure that the 60 year Bennett will be living life to the absolute fullness, and to bring the same quality and duration of life to others like him.
As I was recently in my truck on the way to speak to a group in Central Texas about food insecurity, I was reflecting on the work of Brian and Breck as it relates to alleviating hunger in our area. Like the administering of medication and daily chest treatments, there is the “on the ground” work of making sure people have the food they need for today, and there is the “in the air” work of fixing systems designed to alleviate hunger, so they can work better for our neighbors in the future.
In my short time working on the issue of childhood hunger in our area, I have discovered that Waco does the “on the ground” work well. Very well, in fact. We see a need and harness our resources to meet the need as quickly as possible. Non-profit organizations, schools and churches operate numerous food pantries in town to address immediate barriers that may be between people and the food they need. Pack of Hope helps fill in the nutritional “weekend gap” children face between school days, and rarely a day week goes by when I don’t see Good Samaritans handing out food to our homeless population. Meals & Wheels provides an invaluable service to seniors, and I have written in this space before, the Child Nutrition Departments at our local schools work tirelessly to feed our students year-round.
Waco fights like hell to feed people today.
But I wonder, could we be fighting harder “in the air” to fix the systems that contribute to people being hungry tomorrow? I think we can be.
In her blog documenting the fight against Bennett’s CF, Breck has given tips on what they have learned so far with regard to their battle. Tip #2 is “Become an Expert,” and part of becoming an expert, she writes, is asking lots of questions of medical providers. She writes, “we ask lots of questions until we feel satisfied we fully understand the reason behind the new treatment, test or medication. And then we often Google more information so we can better grasp how this fits into the overall care of Bennett’s disease.”
I think we should all be employing this tactic with our government officials who pass legislation regarding nutrition assistance programs, administrators and nutrition departments of our schools, and of others who are working at feeding our communities. Ask questions, lots of them.
Ask if a program is working.
When you get an answer, ask for the data.
Ask school administrators if they are making use of every resource at their disposal to ensure that when kids are under their care, they are being fed.
If they say “no,” ask “why not,” and “how can I help?”
If they say “yes,” ask to see the numbers. If they are providing meals that aren’t being accessed, ask if there are better ways to bring children to the meal or, better yet, bring the meal to the children.
It’s an election year—Don’t let a town hall meeting go by when you fail to ask a candidate what his or her plan is to address hunger. When they quickly try to pivot to their talking points, don’t let them.
We are a “churchy” place—Ask your pastor what he or she thinks the mission of your congregation is with regards to hunger.
Be gentle and empathetic. Be respectful of the expertise of the person you are asking the questions of, recognizing that they swim in these waters every day.
But be a little annoying.
I imagine those on the receiving end of Breck and Brian’s questions often get annoyed, but I know that Bennett’s life, both today and 60 years from now is worth it. And if we can alleviate hunger in our city, or even just put a big dent in it, I think annoying some people might also be worth it.
(To learn more about Bennett and CF– http://www.initforbennett.com/p/bennetts-story.html)
Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.
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