Whether it is an abundance of pride and a lack of humility, or whether it’s just plain negligence and abuse, our children are constantly being placed in the position to keep food insecurities at home a secret. Either way, there is a generation’s old stigma that has been conceived in the homes of our children that places emphasis on the expression, “What happens in this house, stays in this house.”
For 10-year-old Mariah, keeping household secrets was a requirement as well as an expectation, and it didn’t come with exceptions. Even if those exceptions meant that she and her siblings could enjoy 2-3 well balanced meals each day, at no cost to her family. For her to speak up, would mean the possibility of exposing her family’s need for help, and just like many low-income households, also posed the threat that child protective services be notified, risking the stability of her family.
Janice Simpson, who has been an educator and grade school counselor for over 35 years, has seen children come and go. Many things have changed over the last 35 years, but the household mandate of “What happens in this house, stays in this house,” is more than just an expression, and it is one constant that we can’t count out just yet.
“Many of the students won’t tell us they don’t have food at home, but we can tell. When I visit the cafeteria, I can tell. Those educators that are on cafeteria duty can also tell, and they pay close attention to those children that continue to go back for more,” Janice says.
Pride and poverty go hand in hand. The fear of being exposed as a failure is enough to push parents into survival mode, not realizing their children ultimately take on all of the suffering. Food insecurities are foundational for emotional, mental, and physical insecurities as well. In addition, teaching children to keep secrets that will increase their chances of physical and mental instability, will establish a new foundation for future adults, who will repeat the same dire mistakes with their own children as well.
Although there are limitations placed on what information is allowed to be shared by the children regarding food insecurities, it is a blessing to have resources available to assist with supplemental meals. Food youth pantries like the Northmen Dens, Harbor Hut, and Lockview Locker, work miracles for those children who are missing meals in secret, and are a staple in the worldwide fight to end hunger.
It is time we break the cycle and end the generational curse that has been placed on vulnerable children, which forces them to suffer silently in malnutrition. It is time we expose the truth about childhood hunger. With all of the assets that are available to assist with hunger, becoming an example of humility and allowing the world to see where our hungry hearts reside, we will be more successful in changing the lives of children like Mariah.
“You are what you eat,” they say.
For many children, like Mariah, that is barely anything.