David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: poverty

Why I Took My Daughter to Feed the Hungry on Thanksgiving

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“I’m starving,” Olive announced one day last week is. She’s my daughter. She’s six.

“You’re not starving,” I said, “you’re hungry.”

Epiphany. Laugh-of-luxury child has no idea what it means to starve. To not eat. To be poor.

Yes, she understands there are Poor People. But it’s an intellectual construct. Like knowing there are Emus or Mexican Jumping Beans.

I don’t want Olive to be one of those pampered, entitled suburban white kids who thinks of Poor People as the Other, to be denigrated, looked down upon, ignored, pitied from afar, used for cheap labor and/or cannon fodder. I was raised in lap-of-luxury suburbia, but I was taught that Poor People are just like you and me. Only they don’t have money. Or opportunity. Or a bubble of affluence surrounding them. I was raised to believe that it’s our obligation to give back. To help. To take care of those less fortunate than ourselves. I want my daughter to understand that the corporate-fueled greed which has corrupted this country is EVIL. I want her to understand that people are more important than profit. I want her to understand that it’s important to help people who are less fortunate than ourselves.
I know what it’s like to be poor. When I was 17 I was cast out, and lived in poverty for a decade. Food stamps. Dank basement apartments that cost $25 a month. Trying to choose between buying three slices of pizza or a used paperback. Figuring out how to become an expert shoplifter. Turns out I liked stealing more than I liked being hungry. But I was lucky, I’m white, I was educated, and I was loved and taken care of as a kid, told I could be whoever I wanted to be whatever if I worked hard and did the right thing. And I did. So by the time I was 30, I had returned to a lap-of-luxury life. And I want Olive to have an idea that is like to be poor, without her actually having to be poor herself. I know that’s not entirely possible, but I want to do all I can to help her understand.

So we decided on this Thanksgiving to volunteer to feed hungry people. We took Olive to Roosevelt Elementary School in Union City, New Jersey. We prepared her by telling her there might be some homeless people there, and they might dress and possibly smell different than us. But they were just like us. Only they didn’t have money. Or much chance of getting money. Or a fancy house or a fancy car or a fancy TV or fancy food. Olive has dreams of someday becoming a waitress. (Or an artist. Or an Olympic gymnast. Or an architect. Or a ballet dancer. Or a writer.) So the idea of getting to be a waitress for poor people on Thanksgiving was exciting to her in a way that only a six-year-old can get excited.

The volunteers at Roosevelt Elementary School were a rainbow coalition of all ages, races and sizes. There was festive bunting with “Happy Thanksgiving” festooned across it. Kids had made Thanksgiving art placemats that were totally cool. There was tons of food.

The vibe was festive, happy, thankful and giving.

IMG_20131128_112518_653Then the Mayor walked in. I was not expecting to meet the mayor of Union City on Thanksgiving. But there he was. In the flesh. He looked like one of the volunteers. His name is Brian P. Stack. He was born and raised in Union City. This was his brainchild. He started doing this on Thanksgiving when he was 14 years old. He handed out chickens back then, because he couldn’t afford turkeys. During the week of Thanksgiving he handed out 18,000 turkeys. Well, not personally. But his people. I asked him why he did this.

“I just know there’s so much need here, and I want to help.”

Politician has become a dirty word. They’re rich people who make dirty deals behind closed doors. They espouse goodness, while they lurk around public bathrooms looking for illicit hookups; they smoke crack like it’s going out of business; they cheat on their wives, their kids, and the people who voted them into office while they line their pockets with filthy lucre that’s meant to help those less fortunate than themselves. I didn’t expect on this Thanksgiving to meet a politician who gave me faith that America is not totally corrupt. There are still public servants who are, you know … public servants. Who serve the public. Instead of the other way around. Brian P. Stack seems to be in the business of making the word Politician mean something good again.

Then people started showing up to eat. Young, old, and in between. I was in charge of salad. Olive was in charge of rolls and cranberry sauce. She really got her waitress on, welcoming people, asking with a chipper smile, “Would you like a roll? Would you like some cranberry sauce?” She was the youngest one serving food by 25 years. She made people smile.
And they kept coming. At least 300 hungry mouths were fed by the time we finished. And lots of them took containers of food to go. They ate, they talked, they hung out, they ate. Some by themselves, some with their boy/girlfriend. Some with their family and kids.

After about an hour we took a break and Olive had a roll, some cranberry sauce and a giant helping of salad. There we were, eating with all the Poor People. After she finished eating, Olive looked around and said to me, “Dad, the poor people look the same as us.”

Point made.

I asked Olive if she was having fun serving rolls and cranberry sauce.

“Yeah,” she said, “it’s super fun.”

She was right. It was super fun. It was pure joy. With no hangover.

I looked up and all of a sudden we were almost done. Apparently time moves quickly when you’re helping people.

As we were leaving, Olive looked at me with a big six-year-old smile and said, “I want to do this again next year!”

And so we shall. So we shall.

Poor People Happier Than Rich People for the First Time in History

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One unexpected benefit of the worst economic depression in a century is that for the first time in history, poor people are happier than rich people. Experts claim this is because

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the lifestyle of poor people has barely changed with the economic downturn. They were below the poverty before, and they’re below the poverty level now. But apparently, according to experts, many poor people are taking great comfort and the joy in the misery of the rich. In addition, they feel that President Obama actually wants to help them, a notable change from the last eight years in America.

Many rich people, on the other hand, have lost boats, airplanes, luxury automobiles, jet skis, two or three homes, and large portions of their wealth. Certainly many have been the victim of their own greed, but many have also been swindled, deceived and lied to. Just as poor people have been throughout the ages. And many rich people have never been poor, so they have no idea just how hard it is to be an American without money. Whereas most poor people, having been poor most of their lives, are very used to it.

Gerald (not his real name) is a doctor. He is in his mid-50s. He had a thriving practice. He lived in a beautiful home. He had enough money saved to live comfortably for the rest of his life. Or so he thought. Unfortunately for Gerald, he was friends with a very well thought of financial genius named Bernard Madoff. All his friends also knew Bernard Madoff. And they all trusted him to make them more money. In fact Gerald trusted him so much that he went out and mortgaged his house so he could give Madoff all his money. And now it’s all gone. His house, his retirement, all his money.

“It’s very depressing,” said Gerald, “I worked so hard for so long to build my practice. So I could provide for my family, so I could retire and travel. And now it’s all gone. Decades of hard work flushed down the toilet. I’m tired. I can’t sleep. And I’m angry. Why is this villain, this crook, this Madoff, still living high on the hog, in his palace? He should be in jail. Getting shtupped by big angry criminals. I guess though, I’ve always known, in the end I have no one to blame but myself. And that makes me depressed.”

Carla Crandall (her real name) is homeless. She’s in her early 30s. She is a very talented writer who will be published for the first time this summer. She suffers from mental illness, and she is a recovering drug addict. She lives on a fixed income from Social Security because she is disabled. She’s been depressed for years. Her income hasn’t changed at all. She has no retirement. She has no home. She has no money to invest. She didn’t lose one single penny during this catastrophic crash.

“Actually,” said Carla, “I’m really excited that my work is finally going to be published. It’s always been my dream to be a published author. I’m engaged to be married. But it’s so hard to live in the ghetto, drugs shoved down your throat, screaming lunatics and junkies, you just know at any minute someone can stick a knife right between your ribs. It just wears you down. If Obama would only give me, like, maybe ten grand, I could get out of the ghetto, get a computer, get on the Internet. Doesn’t seem like that much out of $800 billion, does it? But I have noticed you can get pants cheaper on the streets recently, so that’s good.”

Yes, it seems that everyone is suffering. But for once, the poor, the downtrodden, the huddled masses, the Carla Crandalls of the world, are suffering a little less than the rich people.

Link to the original post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-henry-sterry/poor-people-happier-than_b_164772.html

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