Smarts, heart and courage needed to beat hunger in Boyle

Published 5:29 pm Friday, October 25, 2019


Guest columnist

“I’m starvin’”

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“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

“My stomach is growling.”

“I’m as hungry as a bear.”

Odds are, you’re not, but you say it anyway. Unfortunately, there are some 4,200 men, women, and children in Boyle County who are legitimately hungry — not occasionally, but routinely. That’s the number for whom food insecurity is a way of life. Senior citizens and young children are especially vulnerable.

The underlying causes are abundant and in many cases, interconnected — generational, societal, social, economic and even geographic as it relates to food deserts that abound in the county. The $5 a family may have to spend on food doesn’t go nearly as far at a convenience store as it does a supermarket; but if you can walk to the convenience store and have no transportation to the larger market, what is the alternative?

The one factor missing in the list of contributors to food insecurity is laziness — easily espoused by those of means, but difficult to prove in the real world. Picture a Monopoly board and you’re a player who has only Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues as your properties. You’re going to lose; it’s that simple. Is it because you’re lazy or is it because that’s the economic reality of the board game? The same dynamic applies, unless…

There are ways to break the cycle, not least of which is education. But a child cannot learn when they’re hungry. Subsidized or free breakfasts and lunches certainly help, but what about an after-school snack, dinner, weekends, summer, snow days, etc.?

The working poor expend an inordinate percentage of their income on the things we take for granted, including housing costs, utilities, childcare, and food — yes, food in large part because of the food deserts mentioned earlier. Hard to believe? Take $20 to your nearest grocery store and buy breakfast for a family of four — eggs, milk, juice, bacon, bread, and some fresh fruit. You’ll likely have some money left over. Now go to the closest convenience store with the same menu and see what that $20 will get you. That’s part of the difference between living on Boardwalk and living on Baltic.

While we’re drawing on childhood analogies like Monopoly, let’s look at the Wizard of Oz for our local elected officials to consider as guidance because they have the wherewithal to make a difference in addressing the situation in a positive and proactive manner. 

First on the list, a brain. Our elected officials are smart, which is one reason they were elected, but they need to demonstrate an understanding of the breadth and depth of the situation from an intellectual standpoint. The hungry do not frequent City Commission or Fiscal Court meetings, but they are here — thousands of them in this community. Those facing food insecurity are not regulars at Boyle County or Danville school board meetings, but they come to school every day where they are fed and then sent home where a healthy meal is far less predictable. They are not represented by powerful lobbyists when the legislature convenes to consider tax reform and places a disproportionate burden on the working poor, as the recent expansion of the sales tax on services clearly demonstrates. 

Next on the Yellow-Brick-Road wish list is a heart. Despite the growing chasm in this country between political extremes, we are still a compassionate and caring society. Once we embrace the fact that food insecurity exists here in Danville, our leaders must demonstrate empathy, not sympathy. After all, as Jesse Jackson once said, “the only time to look down on someone is if you’re helping them up.”

I do not mean to express empathy in absentia — live it, see it, experience it from the perspective of those who feel the effects of food insecurity every day. Help deliver meals on wheels; fill a food box at a participating Soup’s On Us church; pack a weekend backpack for school kids; collect donations for a local food pantry. See and talk to the men, women, and children who have little voice in policymaking because you are, or should be, their voice.

All of that takes courage — political courage to do the right thing even if your “back-fence brain trust” says it’s wrong. For example, during the next budget cycle, take a more critical look at organizations that have promised self-sufficiency for years, but have never attained it. Does offering another feast at the public trough get them any closer to self-sufficiency, or could that money be better spent to offer hope for sustainability to those who face food insecurity day in, day out? 

Here’s how you get started. Once again this year, Grace Café will host a community lunch to heighten awareness of hunger and food insecurity in Boyle County. It takes place at the Presbyterian Church at noon on Oct. 31. Start now to learn more about the issue so that when budgets for school districts, the city, the county, and even the state are developed, the disenfranchised among us will have a voice in decision-making that will impact them for years to come.

In other words, do not be a politician concerned about the next election; be that rare office holder who is genuinely concerned about the generation. And please don’t succumb to the believe that political courage is political suicide. If we as a society cannot support feeding a hungry child or helping an 80-year-old maintain a sense of independence, there is something terribly wrong. 


Phil Osborne is chairman of the Coalition for a Hunger Free Boyle County.