Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happyness… and my personal confession

June 10, 2008 § 2 Comments

David Davenport, President & CEO – I intend no disrespect to Thomas Jefferson with the title of my inaugural entry. Quite the opposite. I have long admired the work, writings and governing philosophy of one of our nation’s most interesting founding fathers.

Actually, what I’d like to do is to have a slightly more contemporary discussion. For those of you that have had the chance to see the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” much of my first entry will make a great deal of sense. If you have not had the opportunity to watch what I believe is one of the most stunning and painfully realistic portrayals of food insecurity and hunger, then I encourage you to do so – and do so soon.

Back to that in a minute. Years ago, while serving another non-profit organization, I stood at the edge of a massive solid waste dump on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. I will never forget what I saw.

Pursuit of Happyness

I watched as hundreds of children collected food amidst the pile of disgusting and decomposing waste. In most cases, the food they were collecting was their family’s dinner for the evening. As shocking as it was to view this incredible scene, I have to admit I wasn’t completely surprised that far away from the United States I was witness to the pain of hunger on a massive scale. What I didn’t expect was to come home to a country with the agricultural capacity to feed the entire world and learn that hunger exists here as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always known that there were people living under the highway overpasses in my hometown of Houston. I was well aware of those panhandling on street corners and at stoplights. I wasn’t blind to homelessness. At that particular time in my life, I had apparently convinced myself that “those people” were different. They were drug addicts, alcoholics, victims of mental illness who refused to get help, or they where there because of a lifelong string of bad decisions. What could I do – I couldn’t save them from that type of behavior.

I had convinced myself that “those people” were different from me. Little did I know.

I placed the words “my confession” in the title of this post – well, here it is. I was wrong. I was painfully and embarrassingly wrong. I was wrong about who is hungry in America.

Even though there are clients of food banks around the country who are homeless and suffer from difficult addictions and ailments, the vast majority of clients have a place to live, and nearly half of the families served have at least one working adult.

Hunger is a homebound senior citizen. A person who survived the depression, a world at war, someone who participated in the building of a nation only to find themselves on a fixed income and forced to make difficult choices between food, utility payments, medical and other rapidly rising costs.

Hunger is a single mom desperately trying to teach her children core values, yet finding herself unable to provide food to them on a regular basis, and even less often to herself. She gets up every day, sends her children off to school, and heads to her low-wage job in an unreliable car. She is constantly fighting illness because of a lack of nutritious food. She knows she must keep going and keep fighting because if she gives in to the exhaustion and illness, she will lose her job, then her home, and possibly her children.

Hunger hits war veterans; hunger hits those trying to keep their house out of foreclosure. Hunger impacts people who look like you and me and children who look like our children. Every day, hunger devastates many seniors who look like our parents and our grandparents.

I watched the “Pursuit of Happyness” again a few weeks ago and watched actor Will Smith closely. I listened to how he delivered his dialog, how he embraced the little boy who portrayed his son (who was played by his real-life son). I studied how he faced the ever- growing and complicated barriers on his journey, and I found myself amazed. I told myself, “He gets it. In some ways, he understands the pain of a parent putting their child to bed without a meal.” During his time on screen, he was living with the fear of “what’s next?” and “what will we do to live tomorrow?” I wondered if this experience was as transformative for Will Smith as that day I witnessed children eating food from one of the most nauseating and most-foul smelling places in Brazil, if not the world.

I came to the conclusion that I needed that experience. I am highly motivated to lead an organization that will not only provide food for those in need, but in the end, it will shrink the hunger line. I intend to commit to a more personal understanding of those individuals seeking emergency food assistance at 355 the Partner Agencies we serve. I will share more on this in my next entry.

I am typing this on board a flight headed to Chicago. As I look out the window, I see small towns, cities and farms filled with many enjoying their success and the opportunities of a great nation. As I see these homes passing by, I am also aware that many are struggling – trying their hardest but finding themselves making difficult choices between buying medicine or paying rent and having something to eat.

Another difficult challenge in their personal pursuit of happyness.


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