In early November, the Wall Street Journal interviewed Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. Her insightful discussion with WSJ mirrors so much of what we’ve seen – and are seeing – at CORA. Of particular interest to me, were her comments about how easy it is to misunderstand the complexities of food insecurity, the importance of placing judgement and preconceived notions aside, and the extreme increase in need that organizations working to address food insecurity from Feeding America to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC to CORA to local churches are facing.
As Ms. Babineaux-Fontenot points out, and as any of us who have worked and volunteered at CORA have seen, there is no stereotypical face of food insecurity. You can’t look at someone – especially now – and know whether or not they may be food insecure. Nationally and locally, the prevailing misconception is that people just don’t work hard enough. In reality, most people who are food insecure are the working-class poor. At CORA, we see many clients who are working multiple minimum wage jobs and still cannot make ends meet.
The article also points out just out quickly and harshly we judge people who visit food pantries. I’ve heard (and said) this statement too many times, “Look at that car. Why do they need food if they can afford that car.” I remind myself often that there is always a story. I’ve spoken with numerous people over the past nine months that never thought they’d need food. Never thought they’d find themselves in a line of cars outside CORA. Had a good job, but were laid off and had no prospects during COVID. It’s imperative that we continue to afford them the dignity we’ve always worked to provide.
Finally, and strikingly, Ms. Babineaux-Fontenot points out that the pandemic has forced us to see things we cannot unsee and face things we didn’t think we’d have to face. I’m sure many of us are much more attuned to the needs and suffering of others. Very few of us have ever seen miles of cars or people waiting for food distributions. Most of us probably didn’t know that as a nation, we waste over 72 billion pounds of food each year while nearly 40 million people turn to food pantries to feed their families.
This struck a chord with me personally because I’m still relatively new to the world of food insecurity and also because I can identify with the aforementioned thoughts and observations. I’m grateful that this community is so closely aligned with CORA and that there is a tangible effort to ensure that this community is a community without hunger.
Melissa Driver Beard