There's an ad that runs one the radio that makes me switch stations each time it comes on the air. It goes sorta like this:
Jane gets a cup from the cupboard.
She pours coffee from the coffeemaker into her cup.
She sits at her kitchen table.
She drinks her coffee.
For you this is an everyday experience.
For someone like Jane pouring a cup of coffee in her own home is amazing.
I'm not sure why I don't like this commercial. I want to be flippant here and say it's because they are not entertaining but that would not be the truth. I can't help but feel it's maybe about middle-class guilt. Or maybe the discomfort in knowing there are people who do not have a lovely morning routine of sipping tea and reading blogs on one's laptop while trying to wake up. Or maybe because after walking through Calgary's Drop-In Centre on recent early Sunday mornings means the commercials can't be ignored. Maybe the vast number of people sleeping on the floor, passing time on the steps, sitting at small tables waiting for the kitchen counter sliders to open up doesn't permit me to dismiss the commercials as not being real.
At Symons Valley UC, we are finding ourselves being called to address issues around hunger. Particularly local hunger. We have made sandwiches, we have served breakfast, we have helped with supper at Inn From the Cold. We have had people who are striving to end hunger in Calgary come speak during worship services. We are working towards hosting a workshop that will explain why hunger exists in Calgary--what socio-economic factors are at play--and the impact hunger has on your physical, emotional and mental well-being.
I like to think I'm reasonably informed about social-economic inequality. I am a diaconal minister after all--one third of my training focused specifically on social justice issues. But it's one thing to KNOW an issue and another to UNDERSTAND the issue. And, I have to say, after this Sunday's service, I suddenly find myself understanding that commercial.
Pastor Marilyn Gunn was our guest on Sunday. Marilyn is the CEO of Calgary's Community Kitchen. She spoke passionately about hunger and her calling to assist those struggling with not getting enough to eat--especially children and families. Marilyn told the congregation how the cost of fresh food--vegetables and fruit--is prohibitive for those people living in poverty. How after paying the rent, there's hardly anything leftover for good, healthy groceries. How a lack of nutritious food fosters scenarios in which people of all ages can't focus, can't learn, can't be productive.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning as I am preparing to leave for work:
I open the fridge door and remove all manner of fresh vegetables from the shelves and drawers.
I make a salad with lettuce, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes.
I prepare my olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
I chop celery, onion and peppers for an omelet.
I make my omelet.
I eat my omelet in my own home.
I'm can't tell you the expense of those vegetables, but I'm sure they represented a significant portion of the grocery bill. There was a time that I could tell you exactly HOW MUCH vegetables cost because our food budget was that tight. But these days, we have more flexibility with our expenses and can be a little more reckless when picking up food in the produce department. People living at or below the poverty line do not have this luxury of not scrutinizing each and every item being placed in the grocery cart.
But something else struck me Tuesday morning. It took a more than a few minutes to cut everything up and assemble my breakfast and lunch for that day. Not only did I need to have the food to make those meals--I needed to have the TIME. And free access to a kitchen. When your place of rest is a shelter or drop-in centre, you do not have the luxury of time or freedom to use a kitchen at your convenience.
I need to let you know that I am currently reading a book called, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The premise is that a horrible flu more or less has killed most of humanity and the few survivors must create a new world for themselves--one without electricity, cars, air travel, phones--you get the idea. It's kinda of freaking me out a little bit--what do you mean no Internet, no indoor plumbing, central heating, ice cubes? I have found myself fretting about how awful life would be without these things--never mind food, shelter, clean water.
And so, what I found remarkable on Tuesday morning were all the conveniences that exist in my world. How each day I count on turning on taps for hot water, flicking a switches for light, the car that gets me to church when I want to go rather than waiting for a bus that would take FOREVER (probably only an hour but, still who wants to sit on a bus or an hour?). That my fridge was filled with an abundance of fresh, nutritious food.
Suddenly my privileged, middle-class self who has never gone hungry (unless it's been a self-imposed diet or situational--certainly not because I did not have access to food) got smacked upside the head with just how AMAZING it would be to wake up that first morning after moving into a home of your very own after being homeless or living with many other people. How awesome it would be to know there was food in the cupboard and fridge. And how great it would be to walk to your own cupboard for a mug of your own choosing, not one being handed to you by a volunteer at the shelter. How it might feel to make coffee without having someone waiting behind you. To pour the coffee you made yourself and sitting at the kitchen table. And drinking the coffee at your leisure. In the quiet and calm of your own home.
And Tuesday morning, I finally understood that commercial.