I will never forget his little face.
He was the cutest little boy, a little on the skinny side, with brown hair and big, huge, gigantic blue eyes.
Cute as a button.
I was at the park late last summer with Michaela and the woman I presumed to be this kid's mom was sitting on a bench reading a book and watching over the cute boy and a few other kids. At some point, the mom yelled out to the kids telling them to stop doing something or another.
Out rang a chorus of "He did it" and "It's not my fault" and "He started it".
The mom and I shared what I call the "mommy-to-mommy eyeroll" and started a friendly chatter.
A short time later, the mom had to call the cute boy over for a face-to-face about something he'd done on the playground. As he turned to go back to play, he asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.
"Do I still get to eat?" he asked.
"Of course you do. You can always eat, no matter what," she said.
I sat there a few seconds, unsure of what to say. Sensing my discomfort, the mom turned to me and told me a story that brought tears to my eyes.
She said the cute boy was her nephew. She got custody of the boy and his sister after her sister, who was addicted to some drug or another, went to jail. The kids had been in foster care for a while beforehand.
And somewhere along the way -- the aunt seemed to think it was while the kids were with their mom -- someone used food to punish them. The aunt said the social workers told her the kids had gone to bed hungry many nights. The kids were told that it was punishment for some minor offense during the day, but it was more likely that there was simply no food in the home, probably because the mother was too high to care.
As a result, she said, the kids always freaked out when they realized their box of cereal was getting low or if they got in trouble for something during the day. To compensate, she kept several boxes of cereal in the house at all times and she took them grocery shopping with her every other week so they would realize that food was replaced on a regular basis. And of course, she constantly reassured them that no matter what they did wrong, they could always eat.
I never forgot that little boy or his kindhearted aunt. For me, he is the "face" of hunger. I've seen those sad commercials with the dirty little hungry kids, but for some reason I was far more impacted by that little boy with the blue eyes. I just couldn't imagine him going to bed with his belly growling.
A recent visit to God's Pantry put him back on my mind.
Marian Guinn, the CEO of the organization, which serves 50 Kentucky counties, gave some hunger stats that made me cringe.
Did you know that God's Pantry gives emergency food assistance to 15,400 families a week?
Did you know that one in 7 people in their service area -- yes, ONE in SEVEN-- need their services?
Did you know that there are 310, 170 people living in poverty in their service area and that 73 percent of their client households are food insecure, meaning that they are at risk of being unable to provide food for their families?
When I think of those numbers, I can't help but feel blessed.
My parents had 11 children -- yes, 11 -- and helped raise a few others, and yet I don't remember ever being hungry. Granted, we might have had to eat a lot of rice and beans , but we weren't hungry. I remember times when family friends would drop off bags of groceries and when the first stop my mom made in the grocery store was at the discount bin. But my parents were conscientious about making sure we ate nutritious foods, and I gained a ton of weight when I left home and started eating sugary foods.
I remember that I was 21 when I had my first steak and older than that when it dawned on me that I could buy the name brand items at Kroger. I was about 30 years old before I would eat rice again. (Of course, my younger brothers and sister don't remember those days.They eat what they want and when.)
Still, I remember that we always had enough to share with people who were less fortunate.
And I remember that we were never allowed to complain about what was placed on our plates. On the rare occasions that we expressed our hatred for chili marathons or meatless spaghetti, my mom and dad would always say that there were some hungry kids in Africa who wanted whatever food we were complaining about having.
Boy, how we used to hate those hungry kids in Africa. It was their fault we had to eat rice.
"Well, they can have my rice," one of my little brothers said once, out of my earshot of my parents. "I don't need it."
But alas, those hungry kids didn't just live in Africa. They lived right there in my hometown. They live all over Kentucky. They live all over our nation and all over the world.
I encourage you to do your part to help them. Call your local pantry or ask how your church or organization can get involved. Pick up a few extra cans of vegetables and take them to a local shelter or a local church.
My church, Landmark Apostolic, feeds people every first Sunday and on Tuesday nights. I donate a few items every month. Every little bit counts.
Somebody out there is hungry. It may be your co-worker or the your kid's baseball teammate. They need your help.
For more information about God's Pantry, visit www.Godspantry.org or call (859) 255-6592.