Is it possible for a military child to go hungry without notice? My experience as a former military child who became homeless…by Jenny Green
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“The use of food stamps in commissaries increased 9 percent from 2012, when for the full year $99 million worth of food stamps were redeemed on bases. In addition, the commissaries sold some $31.2 million in goods under the Women, Infants and Children program in 2012 and about $15 million so far this year (2013).”
My mother suffered secondary PTSD due to my father, and as much as I had tried in the past to blame her for all the problems in my young life….I realized not all of it was her fault, she didn’t ask for PTSD. When we lived overseas, she was happy and food would be in the fridge and on the table. When we found out we were going stateside and being discharged, slowly I noticed the fridge wasn’t as full and dinner was either a hot dog and a glass of water or nothing at all. It was almost as if a switch was flipped inside her as she became more depressed than usual. When my parents got a divorce, Mom and I were left at my Grandmother’s house.
Mom would sleep and stay in bed for 18 hours a day, meanwhile my Grandmother made sure I was cleaned, went to school, and was fed. I remember at times she would get on my Mom and call her lazy for not taking care of me. Then after their arguments Mom would reluctantly get up and make me a sandwich or a frozen pizza for dinner. I remember her being mad that she had to make me a meal, and scowled the whole time. She would plate it, and literally drop the plate in front of me on the table making a cracking sound, and tell me to eat before I got yelled at too.
I remember an instance where she didn’t eat for 3 days, and finally ate a few mini snickers candies. I looked at her and asked in a happy tone, “Are you going to eat that? I am glad you are eating something.” She looked at me with that same angry scowl and threw the candies at my face and told me to shut up and not to look at her. I didn’t have a clue what I did wrong, and to this day I still do not know.
Finally my Grandmother grew tired of us being at her home and we were forced to live in public housing, I was 10. I remember our first trip to the “grocery store” from our new place was actually to the local Salvation Army to the food pantry, and I remember being thrilled to get a loaf of French bread and canned soup. Mom carried it home in the brown paper bag, and I was happy and proud to have some good food coming our way, little did I realize how wrong I was.
When we got home she gave me a huge slice of French bread. She sliced the bread, handed it to me and threw the knife in the sink breaking the tip. Happily, I went into the living room and sat down on the concrete tile floor and watched cartoons on our black and white television while eating the bread. Later that night I went back into the kitchen wanting to look into the bag to see what else we had received with the bread and canned soup. I couldn’t find the bag so I asked Mom what she had done with the food. She said she had put it up in the cupboard above the sink. I asked her for more bread and she told me to get it myself. Being 10 and still little, I grabbed the only chair in the apartment and stood on it and opened the cupboard door, she had placed all the food on the top shelf. I tried standing on the edge of the sink to have more of a reach, but I still could not reach it. I climbed down and asked her for help, and she told me I was S.O.L. and if I couldn’t reach it I couldn’t eat it. I remember being mad and sad at the same time, as I had not eaten at all that day due to it being a weekend day.
Mom would buy food at the beginning of the month when the paper food stamps came out. But she would not allow me to eat any of it; I realized she liked to hoard food. I remember meat spoiling and the blood running down the inside of the fridge onto other food. One thing that I still think about to this day is the field trip “lunches” my mother would pack. Most kids look forward to field trips, I hated them simply because I wouldn’t eat that day, and what was even worse was a field trip on a Friday as I would not have food for three days. When my mother did pack me a lunch, the food that would be in the bag was rotten and spoiled. I remember spoiled bologna sandwiches to the point the bologna had a pasty white film and stale bread. The bananas would be almost solid black, or the grapes would be moldy. The yogurt would be expired to the point that most of it had turned to water. I remember throwing away the food in the bag and sitting watching everyone else eat. I remember a teacher asked me why I did not eat and I showed him the bag of spoiled food; he assumed that it had spoiled from being out half the day. When I asked him how a “fresh” banana can go black in a few hours he was at a loss for words. I was hoping he would do or say something, but he never did.
School lunches were my lifeline, it was all I had to look forward to, and until noon my little mind revolved around the thoughts of food. I wouldn’t pay attention in class and would be caught either daydreaming or having my head down on the desk. I remember my grades in math and English were not that good as they were my morning subjects, and I would be preoccupied in my mind about wanting food. When lunch was served, many kids opted for the cold lunch of a sandwich and fruit, I always took the hot meal choice as it was the only one I would get for the day. I remember kids asking questions about me eating all my food on my tray, and wondered why I would eat all the “nasty cafeteria” food. If we were ever released early for a heat day or a snow day, students were sent home without lunch. I remember being upset because I would be going home hungry and stay hungry till the next school day. At times I remember being so hungry that I would start throwing up, have headaches, and at times be light headed and see stars.
I think when I really hit rock bottom on the aspect of food was when I was a homeless child. I was locked out of the house at 12 years old and left to fend for myself for 3 months during the summer. I would raid dumpsters behind restaurants to find food. The best places to raid a dumpster were fast food restaurants as these places have more customers due to cheaper food prices. I would eat half eaten hamburgers, crack open chicken bones to eat the marrow and pull off ligaments, and use my fingers to eat partially moldy pie, I would even lick the container clean. If I was extremely lucky, I would find fruit and vegetables in dumpsters behind grocery stores. If I needed water, I would drink out of the public water fountains or drink out of a fast food cup that still had soda in it. If I wanted to clean the grease or food off my face and hands, it was nothing for me to use old napkins with lipstick stains or tissues from someone blowing their nose.
I remember being jealous of the other students, not because of their clean clothes of which mine were always filthy, not because of having new toys which I never had once arriving stateside, but because they would be going home to eat and go to sleep with a full warm stomach. This is something a child in America should never be jealous of, but unfortunately it happens. Now that I am older, I look forward to going to grocery stores and trying every new food that I can. I make sure that I have food stocked in my cabinets and have fresh food in my fridge every week. Having the experience of being without food and now being able to afford it, I have found myself buying groceries for a local church in Newport in order for them to keep their food pantry running.
I was once hungry, but now that I have survived and thrived. I have a new hunger of determination and want of success. Jenny Green Science and Technology Teacher Neighbors for Kids Depoe Bay, Oregon jenny.osu.oregon@gmail Port Sampler State of Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife Port of Depoe Bay, Oregon