Me and AJ
Published February 1, 2024
By Lib Campbell
The TV ad opens with a mom taking her children to school early enough for her to get to work on time. AJ and his sister go into the cafeteria where she says, “me and AJ wouldn’t have any breakfast at all if it weren’t for breakfast at school.” The hunger of children should wrench our hearts and prompt action among us that says, “Not in America.”
Children should NOT go hungry in America. Yet statistics from 2021 indicate there are thirteen million children in America - one in five – who live with hunger and food insecurity. That number has likely increased in the years since then. One million of those children live in North Carolina.
Fifty six percent of households in our state are part of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Almost eleven percent of households in North Carolina are food insecure. Government aid comes through WIC programming (Women Infants Children). School children can participate in the National School Lunch Program. Yet here are AJ and his sister telling us they would have nothing to eat without free breakfast, free lunch, and a hearty snack before they go home for the day.
The commercial with AJ and his sister, voiced by actor Jeff Bridges, promotes No Kid Hungry. No Kid Hungry is a national fundraising campaign of Share the Strength, a non-profit working on hunger and other issues of poverty around the world.
In 2021, during the pandemic, there were record low numbers for hunger and food insecurity. Communities came together to address the problem. Lawmakers passed legislation that increased SNAP and other benefits. A lot of those services went away when the pandemic subsided.
Children should not have to bear the consequences of our inability to legislate with compassion. Hunger could be addressed in four actions: SNAP could be expanded. Summer meals at school sites should be continued. Free breakfast, lunches and snacks should be available to every child who needs it. And there should be greater child-related tax credits for low-income people.
At our church, Saint Mark’s UMC in Raleigh, we are part of the Backpack Buddies program of Wake County. Our outreach ministry started small, with a food pantry called Sophie’s Bread Box. When schools started asking for food to send home with children identified with need, the program shifted to the Backpack ministry.
Today we are serving nearly 200 children from 9 schools in Wake County. Faithful teams purchase the food and stock the shelves in the Backpack Buddy room. Volunteers pack and deliver bags every week of the school year. Volunteers and money keep the ministry going. But at some point, there will be a limit to what our church can do. Relieving hunger is part of our mission statement. We are doing our part, but we cannot do all the parts.
The quagmire that is American politics is hurting the most vulnerable among us. Legislation is for purely political gain, and children have no agency or political capital in today’s culture. Children are hungry 365 days a year. There is no summer recess on hunger.
We say we love children, yet the rising numbers of hungry children in North Carolina belies that claim. The correlation between poverty and hunger is undeniable. The cultural scales weigh heavily toward perpetuating the status quo of wealth, while not solving the poverty issue.
Who are the people working to address the issues of hunger and poverty? Are they being well funded? Are they being led by people with compassion? What is government’s role, if any, in addressing this problem? If it is all up to citizens of the church and the community, how do we ramp up ideas and action to change our ways?
We are in an election season where acrimony seems to be the leading platform element. Perhaps it’s time to get loud about the most insidious social issues, things that should not be issues in a country of our wealth. Hunger is at the top of the list.
NC Newsline reports a story from the NC Department of Public Instruction. Sponsors are being recruited for a summer feeding program for children in North Carolina. Over one million children in NC will go hungry this summer if this need is not met. Go to the NC Department of Public Instruction website for information about ways you can help.
“Me and AJ” sit at the table, appreciative of the breakfast they receive at school. But they will be hungry tonight and this weekend and this summer. How long, O Lord, will we let this social ill corrode our souls, our responsibility, and our charge to serve the smallest among us?
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite www.avirtualchurch.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com