Hungry in First Grade

Viewing ourselves as caring individuals should push us to be more mindful of those who are suffering in our economy and will suffer even more under the current administration.  I don’t say this from some elitist, liberal-leaning educated point of view but from examples in my life as a young child in a poor household.

Reading today about the caring of teachers who are asking people to contribute not only to campaigns for learning materials, but for things like food for morning breakfast and pajamas is heart-wrenching. Do we live in a world where a young child would ask for pajamas because it’s something they’ve never had? Yes, we do.

Every religion encourages adherents, as an act of faith, to aid those of their fellow humans and charity is seen as an intrinsic tenet of that faith. I’m not going into how some avow their strong faith beliefs and then discriminate against others who are not of their faith, their color, their national origin. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the hearts of these “faithful” people and they refuse to believe it. The battle has been walled off in their minds and fear and anger have taken over.

The words “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” should be taken more seriously and seen as a mind-opening exercise for all of us. Even those of us who believe we are knowledgable probably don’t have a true understanding of what it’s like to be in the shoes of that other person or, in the instance to which I refer, that child.

When I was a young child in a religious school staffed by nuns and where other children were from middle-class families, I came face-to-face with poverty. No, it wasn’t the poverty of others, but in my family. We had no hot water, no central heating, no gas stove, no refrigerator and my mom put a hot brick under  the covers in winter to give us a little warmth in that cold-water row house owned by the local realtor slum lord. Descendent from the original Dutch, he ruled like a lord of the manor. His name was Brinkerhoff.

Today his family sold the property for the row houses and a college has torn everything down to expand in a community still segregated. Odd that it should have turned out like that.

Looking back, as I did recently when I saw a request from a teacher for food for his students so that would have breakfast and not be hungry, I recalled my childhood. Our school had no cafeteria, no library and no science was taught. Instead we received lessons in etiquette, religion and simple math. Not a very good start in life.

Mornings when we had to fast and bring “breakfast” to school, I can see myself with two pieces of toast and a mayonnaise jar half-full with milk. It was all we had and my mother tried her best. Thermos bottles were out of the question in a home where you couldn’t  afford coal for the small stove that gave you any hot water.

I wasn’t the only kid who brought this simple breakfast to school and so it didn’t sting as it might have at another school. Many of us were poor and we knew that shoes had to be re-soled on top of re-soling to maintain the one pair of shoes you had. After you grew out of those shoes, they were passed on to another family that needed shoes. Nothing was thrown out. All of us were in it together, especially the kids who had 14 siblings in their families.

But reading the note from the teacher about how the young students (in first or second grade) wanted to wear their pajamas (given as requested by the teacher through a charity) home just underscored the lives of these children. The girls, who had asked for simple dresses and hair clips, also wanted to wear them immediately. Some boys even had a simpler request; underwear.

These kids had never had pajamas. It was their first pair.  And the girls never had a new dress. In some instances, the teachers ask for detergent so the mothers could wash the children’s clothing.  No washing machines at home and laundromats were unaffordable. Yes, they are both children of immigrants or the poor who have lived here for two or more generations.

How could we in a country of billionaires allow this to exist? It is as though there is a concerted effort to diminish the aspirations and the abilities of these kids in the service of creating a new surf class without the enormous estates. Today, there is stoop-labor in the fields and less-than-minimum wage jobs with no benefits, especially missing are health benefits. So these kids have a pretty dim future ahead of them.

Reading this blog means you’re on a computer somewhere. How will you help these kids and the future generation they represent? What can you do to help? Yes, there are things even if you have  only a quarter to put aside for them until you have perhaps $2 to spare. Instead of asking for donations for school uniforms in affluent communities, why aren’t you asking for donations to these kids and their schooling and food at school?

Walk a mile in their shoes and see how it hurts and then you will begin this journey of realization. We all need to take it.

 

 

 

Published by: Patricia Farrell

A licensed clinical psychologist, published author, former psychiatric researcher, post graduate instructor but a fun-loving person, just the same. I've had a series of professional spots that have not only increased my knowledge, but fired up my curiosity. Living is learning and that's what I intend to do. My latest area of interest is computers and coding.

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