Hunger Study 2009: Interviewer’s Perspective

February 6, 2009 § 3 Comments

kimwillisKim Willis
Communications Coordinator

We [CAFB staff and volunteers] walked in and quickly organized the paperwork and logistics for the interviews. In the background, I could hear pots and pans banging, and the kitchen staff doing its last-minute preparations for meal service. Three rounds of meals were served – the homeless ate first, individuals living in this shelter, second, and families with children living in the shelter ate last.

Doors opened and people began pouring into the cafeteria. Several people said, “Oooh, there’s donuts. Grab the donuts!” I had no idea that something so simple and common in my world, was such a treat in theirs. I saw compassion as one guy offered his friend the chair next to him. I saw fear, as a single man ate alone. I heard friendly banter and recognized blank stares. I wondered if these questions were on their minds: Will this be my last meal? When will I get my next meal?

These are the faces of hunger.

Some were excited and some thankful. Friends hugged as they shared a warm meal together. Philosophical debates and suspicious dialogues led table discussions. Moms, dads, aunts and uncles; brothers and sisters; people belonging to people, all affected by poverty and hunger. As one gentleman left, he looked around, wanting to connect with a staff person or volunteer. Not seeing anyone, he offered a gentle, “Thank you” to the open air.

The Hunger Study is calculated and scripted. It’s coordinated by Feeding America and Mathematica Policy Research and is conducted throughout the United States. The results of this national study, Hunger in America 2009, will be released in November/December 2009, and will be used by food banks, hunger advocates, policymakers and legislators across the nation.

We counted clients as they came through the line. When we reached the next possible interviewee, we respectfully asked if they’d like to participate. I still wonder what goes through their mind; what do they feel in that moment of being asked – shame, embarrassment, suspicion, power, control, fear, hope?

These are the faces of hunger.

I had the privilege of interviewing a gentleman who reminded me of my father. My father isn’t homeless, but something about him intrigued me. I began asking the questions; going down the list, filling in the answers, one-by-one. I noticed his facial expression shift as the questions became more personal – are you married, divorced, widowed? How often do you eat at a soup kitchen? What is your monthly salary?

I saw a sad, discouraged, regretful, yet, hopeful and thankful man. He understood life. The choices he made in the past weren’t the best…and now, trying to make a difference, wanting something better for himself. We finished the interview and I said, “Thank you. Your time and honesty in answering these questions will make a difference. I’m sorry about your hardships, and thankful that you’re here. We appreciate you.” I handed him an H-E-B gift card, a token of our appreciation, and said thank you, again.

He is the face of hunger.

Interviews continued. People continued to eat. More than 250 people were served meals that day and we completed 11 interviews.

To me, the Hunger Study is more than a calculated set of interviews. These interviews allowed me an opportunity to be with the hungry, to sit close to poverty and look into the heart of this struggle. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I can’t wait to do it again.

For more information, click here. To download Hunger Study volunteer application, click here.

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