A few weeks ago I attended a viewing for A Place at the Table, a documentary that provides a personal view of the more than 49 million Americans who face food security issues. One of the featured stories involves a fifth-grader named Rosie from Collbran, Colo. More specifically, the film speaks to the hardships faced by those in the Western Slope town and how a local church procures food from the Food Bank of the Rockies to provide for members of their community. This food helps hard-working people—ranchers, police officers and other residents who literally struggle to put food on the table.
For me, this film was deeply personal and troubling on several levels. I grew up on the Western Slope, and I know Collbran and small towns like it. I could relate to those living there. They are hard-working people in a small community with pride and heart, and bearing witness to their collective struggle to feed their families was difficult for me to watch. The rancher who spoke of working the ranch during the day and then cleaning the school at night—just to make ends meet—sharply contrasts the rhetoric about people taking advantage of or relying on public assistance programs out of laziness. Here is the true American patriot—a cowboy, a dedicated father, a hero by my count—and yet he isn’t able to provide fully for his family because what he earns from working long hours at two difficult jobs just isn’t enough. A Place at the Table will certainly challenge negative stereotypes about the recipients of food assistance programs.
Growing up the son of a law enforcement officer, I understand the sacrifices that police officers make every day. Most of them give far more than they get back, and I saw how hard my father worked for his community. During a scene in the film, a local police officer from Collbran talks about his own personal need to get a meal and food for his family from the church. For me, this was a defining moment; if our own police officers and public servants need help with putting food on the table, then we need to open our eyes and get serious about this problem. These people are full of pride and clearly do not want to be receiving charity, but they need this support because they can’t let their children go hungry.
As a new father, I can’t fathom the heartbreak that would come with not being able to provide my daughter enough food, yet millions—yes, millions—of hard-working parents are facing this crisis. The cost of solving this issue is far less than the consequences of not solving it.
With respect to education reform, the return on investment is so much greater if our children come to school with full bellies—ready and able to participate and learn—without the distraction and health consequences of persistent hunger. Yet, in Colorado, 22% of our children don’t have enough to eat. The costs from malnutrition are exponentially greater than the cost of the solution. The idea that more than 49 million people (that’s Colorado eight times over) are facing food insecurity clearly demonstrates the magnitude of families facing this issue every day.
I find the situation of tens millions of Americans going hungry each day completely unacceptable; it is something that can and must be solved as an issue of national security. It’s patriotic to ensure our people, our children, our seniors, our hard-working parents and caregivers, our own neighbors are not hungry. Together we need to rise up, say enough is enough and start focusing on the issue of hunger in our own country.
I encourage people to see A Place at the Table and help us take action because we don’t need to live with this problem in Colorado and across the U.S. For more information on what you can do, visit HungerFreeColorado.org.
William Browning is the Board Chair for Hunger Free Colorado, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization leveraging the power of collaboration, system change, policy change and social change to end hunger in Colorado.