Working at the Preble Street Resource Center, a day shelter, soup kitchen, and food pantry for homeless and low-income community members, my position as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps has opened my eyes to the social isolation and invisibility that often accompanies poverty. "People go out of their way to walk or drive around Preble Street, so they don't have to think about or deal with us," a client explains matter-of-factly.
Through the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, I work with over 50 emergency food providers throughout Cumberland County. I frequently visit food pantries with new resources and opportunities for both providers and clients. Some of the most fulfilling moments of my work are those times when I am able to offer a forum for sharing. For many having a voice is empowering. Too often low-income community members don't get heard.
With this in mind, the Maine Hunger Initiative team has administered over 700 surveys to food pantry clients. In these surveys clients described their experience feeding their families with limited food resources and their needs that go unfulfilled (a common concern was not having access to diabetic food). The majority of those surveyed (83%) of people worry about running out of food before they have money again to buy food, whereas 30% reported this as a constant worry.
I have been able to provide clients with the opportunity to share their stories in other venues as well: through a radio show which does yearly promotion for a "Stuff the Bus" food drive to benefit Preble Street, for a senior hunger PSA, which we are currently in the process of producing. Cumberland County, Maine map I have been a witness to organized forums for clients to speak with the city's mayor, town manager, and state representatives about their concerns and needs that often remain unmet.
At Preble Street, I witness staff working everyday to offer what society often does not; unconditional positive regard and a ready ear. Every opportunity for clients to share their stories and to be seen and heard is an opportunity to build happier and more confident individuals, stronger relationships, and more adept solutions to individual situations and poverty as a whole.