Saturday, September 26, 2009

Unanimous, bipartisan vote this week, praises Catholic sisters!

In a unanimous vote this week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution (H Res. #441) praising Catholic Sisters in the United States for their work in the country throughout US history. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) was the lead sponsor. I think it is amazing that anything could go through unanimously this Congress. Good on you, Sisters!

For the sisters, the Congressional commendation comes at a good time. The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has launched a sweeping investigation of them. This unprecedented inquiry which is already underway is termed an "apostolic visitation." The U.S. congregations of women religious will receive a questionnaire from the Vatican this month. On-site visitations of some orders will follow.

The House resolution, on the other hand, includes an endorsement of the goals of "WOMEN & SPIRIT: Catholic Sisters in America," a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center. It celebrates this group of innovative American women who helped shape the nation's social and cultural landscape. (For more info and two short videos on the exhibit, follow this link.)

The Congressional Resolution passed this week reads as follows:

Whereas today, there are approximately 59,000 Catholic sisters in the United States;

Whereas Catholic sisters participated in the opening of the West, traveling vast distances to minister in remote locations, setting up schools and hospitals, and working among native populations on distant reservations;

Whereas more than 600 sisters from 21 different religious communities nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers alike during the Civil War;

Whereas Catholic sisters cared for afflicted populations during the epidemics of cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, smallpox, tuberculosis, and influenza during the 19th and early 20th centuries;

Whereas Catholic sisters built and established hospitals, orphanages, and charitable institutions that have served millions of people, managing organizations long before similar positions were open to women;

Whereas approximately one in six hospital patients in the United States were treated in a Catholic facility;

Whereas Catholic sisters have been among the first to stand with the underprivileged, to work and educate among the poor and underserved, and to facilitate leadership through opportunity and example;

Whereas Catholic sisters continue to provide shelter, food, and basic human needs to the economically or socially disadvantaged and advocate relentlessly for the fair and equal treatment of all persons;

Whereas Catholic sisters work for the eradication of poverty and racism and for the promotion of nonviolence, equality, and democracy in principle and in action;

Whereas the humanitarian work of Catholic sisters with communities in crisis and refuge throughout the world positions them as activists and diplomats of peace and justice for the some of the most at risk populations; and

Whereas the Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America Traveling Exhibit is sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center and will open on May 16, 2009, in Cincinnati, Ohio:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) honors and commends Catholic sisters for their humble service and courageous sacrifice throughout the history of this Nation; and

(2) supports the goals of the Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America Traveling Exhibit, a project sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center and established to recognize the historical contributions of Catholic sisters in the United States.


In a thirty-second video trailer, the sisters explain the significance of the traveling exhibit "Women & Spirit."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Beginning of the Fall of the Hondruan Military Coup

Carlos Marentes is a regional leader of the global agricultural laborer movement La Via Campesino. We work with him in El Paso. I edited and reprinted this report with his permission.

By Carlos Marentes, La Via Campesena regional leader. September 21, 2009 -
Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Tonight, the heroic Honduran resistance, represented by thousands of workers, peasants, women, teachers, indigenous and afro-descendent people, students, human rights activists, and people in general, is outside the Embassy of Brazil. Inside the embassy, President Manuel Zelaya, who returned surreptitiously to Honduras in the morning, after a 15-hour trek, has already declared: "From now on, nobody will take us out of here, for this reason our position is homeland, reinstatement or death..."

Zelaya, surrounded by his wife, Ziomara Castro, members of his government, leaders of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup, like Rafael Alegría, leader of La Vía Campesina in Honduras, and others, said to a large group of reporters: "I am committed to the Honduran people and I will not rest for a day or a minute until we bring down the dictatorship... The first time, on June 28, they took me off guard, sleeping, but not anymore..."

Outside the embassy, people began to arrive from all the corners of the country to join the massive presence of residents of Tegucigalpa and members of the National Front of Resistance, who have gathered to welcome Zelaya and to demand his reinstatement as the legitimate president. The jubilant crowd was yelling: "¡Si se pudo! ¡Si se pudo! ¡Ahora la constituyente!" ("We made it! We made it! Now, on to the constitutional assembly!")

Immediately, the coup regime sent thousands of military troops and national police officers to intimidate the resistance and attempt to stop the masses marching to the Embassy. Throughout the entire day, many persons were attacked violently, but the military and police forces were unable to stop the massive wave of people. The terrible military team "Las Cobras," famous for using aggressive and violent methods, came in to repress the resistance. Several military helicopters started to fly over the protestors and the embassy. Unable to stop the massive gathering, the military and police forces then surrounded the multitude in a ostensible gesture of provocation.

However, many Hondurans were unable to join the throng because their buses were stopped by the army and the national police. According to human rights activists, the military blocked at least 2,000 persons from the municipalities of Danlí, El Paraíso, Jamastrán and other border towns. Military trucks at blockdes prevented caravans' arrival into Tegucigalpa. Four buses and many vehicles were detained in Colonia Villa Nueva, outside the capital. Military officers also detained members of the press from China, Reuters and Associated Press.

The usurper Roberto Micheletti, appeared on television to give several messages during the day. One declared a "state of siege" from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. and warned that the curfew may be extended. He stated that his regime will not tolerate agitation either from inside or outside. He stated that they had delivered a letter to the Brazilian Ambassador demanding him to hand over Zelaya "so he can be tried before a court to respond criminal charges." He also reminded the international community not to intervene in the interior affairs of Honduras. When asked about the declaration made by Secretary Hillary Clinton that since Zelaya had returned to Honduras it was the moment to reinstate him in the presidency, Micheletti responded: "We respect the opinion of the gringos, but we don't care what they said..."

During the day, several sources had continuously announced that the General Secretary of OAS and other diplomatic ministers would be arriving the next day to help find a solution, so coup mongers closed the four international airports for two days. Next, they shut down communications in several sectors of Tegucigalpa and turned off the electricity in the Brazilian embassy's sector. Some members of the resistance expressed concerns that the intentional black-out might be used to attempt a break in into the embassy and/or to repress the mass of people who decided to spent the night outside there in defiance of the curfew.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C, the Organization of American States (OAS) held an emergency meeting to discuss the Honduran situation. The United States with Canadian support proposed a resolution which was basically a directive to have the "parties involved in this problem" immediately sign the proposed San José Accord prepared by president Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and then move into elections. Several ambassadors, including those from Venezuela and Nicaragua, rejected the resolution because president Zelaya had not been consulted. But the majority decided to approve it anyway saying that "it was not a perfect resolution, but that it was better to have a bad accord than to have a good fight." Once the chairman of the meeting declared that the resolution had been approved and that the ambassadors were standing up to leave, the Nicaraguan Ambassador, Colonel Denis Moncada, suddenly raised his hand and asked for permission to approach the mic. He said that he had just received a call from president Daniel Ortega to ask him to inform the OAS ambassadors, that Zelaya had called Ortega to say that "he did not support the San José Accord" and to ask OAS to demand that the "dictatorship and the coup mongers to lift the state of siege because it was dangerous to the lives of the Honduran people."

Everything that occurred today in Honduras is a clear signal that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the military coup. It may take more days and more sacrifices and more suffering, but there is no way to stop now the struggle of the Honduran people under the inspirational leadership of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup. The usurpers may attempt to bring a blood-bath to hold onto power. But that will not happen if we are alert and fulfill our moral responsibility to offer our concrete solidarity to the sons and daughters of Morazán.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A City Divided. A Hemisphere at War: It's time for a new conversation

When Mr. B.E. and I decided to relocate to the U.S.-Mexico border as volunteers in the immigration arena, I braced for confrontation, based on the image I had of the border. I thought I'd experience hot opposition to Mexican and Latin American immigrants. I was largely wrong.

Of course, there is dissention. And, yes, there are some fearful people. But I learned immediately - and much to my surprise -- that the border is a community. Growing up on the Mississippi River, I could relate. I knew that cities in Iowa and Illinois, although perhaps located on opposite banks of the river, are more alike than different. And so are El Paso and Juarez: sister cities on opposite sides of the same river, the Rio Grande.

In my El Paso neighborhood, four out of five people are Latino. Spanish is the predominant language. Everyone has friends in Juarez; most have relatives there. Commerce is done on both sides of the border. People appreciate what each side has to offer. But, in the three years that we've been part-time border residents, militarization has escalated. The border has morphed into a drug war zone. Unprecedented violence has spiraled out of control. Fear and horror take hold.

Our border community now is painfully divided. It's a microcosm of our hemisphere, our world embroiled in a war on drugs. The violence is a wake-up call, not only for Mexico, but also for the US.

So, to open up a continental-wide conversation on 40 years of US drug policy, faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso are convening a precedent-setting two day conference this week, "Global Public Policy Forum on the U.S. War on Drugs." It will look at alternatives to the status quo, in light of the war both in Juarez and across Mexico. The presenters will be key experts with diverse viewpoints from the entire North American continent.

A parallel event simultaneously occurs in Juarez, featuring the mayor of Medellin, Colombia, a city that has significantly reduced drug violence.

The conference is directed at organizing a far-reaching dialogue, engaging you, the public. Dr. Joe Heyman, an event organizer, told El Paso's The Newspaper Tree: "What we want to do is rise above kind of bland, official policy statements or pure academic research into the public discussion of drug policy."

From the event website:

We would like to invite you to participate in an honest and critical dialogue on the successes and failures of the U.S. ‘war on drugs' at the 40th anniversary of the policy. Please share your important perspective and expertise to develop better policies that fit the new social, economic and national security realities that we face in our globalized world. This dialogue is crucial, as nation-states all over the world like Mexico and Afghanistan are faced with tremendous consequences of U.S. drug policies. In a highly interconnected world, we must endeavor to create policies that take into account the subtle nuances of relationships among countries. As such, we must also structure policies that will better aid communities that are affected by drug use and drug violence. Your presence is essential for this dialogue.

The event's promotional video, found at the top of this page, sets the tone. For those unable to attend the conference, viewing that short video is educational in itself. [Viewer discretion is advised.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Iowa's Little Love Affair with Tomatoes (and a recipe to share the love)

True story: Saturday, I visited the historic two-room Iowa house where President Herbert Hoover was born. To my astonishment, one of the first things the park service ranger said to me was: "Would you like a tomato?"

caption: tomato plant in operating garden at Herbert Hoover birthplace in West Branch, IA

True Story: My mother, who will be 90 years old, still grows her own personal tomato plant-in a pot outside her apartment's patio door-every single year. So does my octogenarian mother-in-law.

In Iowa we're coming to the end of tomato season, a revered time of vine-ripened heaven. What passes for tomatoes in the supermarket most of the year is but pink Styrofoam compared to the deep red, juice-laden, home-grown delights that we devour annually as summer fades into autumn.

Every windowsill is lined with ripening goodness lest bugs or worms get them first. We gather the greens ones before the first frost and bring them indoors to stretch the flavor on into the fall. Farmers and gardeners bear boxes filled with the red orbs proudly into the food pantries to share with the poor.

caption: My windowsill--these guys fell off the vine early...wouldn't want to waste them!

People eat them in sandwiches, sliced thick on bread. Families beat the late summer heat by enjoying bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for supper. Kids grab tomatoes out of the garden and eat ‘em like an apple.

We can tomatoes. We freeze them. We eat fresh ones until our mouths break into canker sores. We can't keep up with the harvest. And then it's over until next year.

Our love affair is not exactly a secret. And we don't ever repent. If you want to belong here in Iowa, you don't have to adore tomatoes. But it helps.

A wonderful way to use lots of tomatoes, and also save a caboodle of money, is in homemade tomato salsa. This freezer recipe is easy and quick. I've never made it with canned diced tomatoes from the grocery store (because I've never had to) but I bet that would work, too.

caption: A big batch of freezer salsa ready to cool.



8 cups diced, seeded, peeled tomatoes (about 10 large) [My friends and I don't bother peeling the tomatoes, and we don't mind the seeds either. Just pulse the tomatoes in a food processor. Zip, it's done.]

2 medium green peppers, chopped

2 large onions, chopped

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped

¾ cup tomato paste

2/3 cup condensed tomato soup, undiluted

½ cup white vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons salt

4 ½ Tablespoons garlic powder

1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring often. Pour into small freezer containers. Cool to room temperature, about an hour. Cover and freeze for up to three months. Stir before serving.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Take this Tune: "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire

Six years ago, the fall equinox--September 21--became a special day of the year for me.

Since we retired, Mr. B.E. is writing some of his favorite life memories. He let me share this selection about it (from a chapter of his hitch-hiking stories) with you:

In 2003 we spent a semester in Merida on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula as visiting professor/s of Central College’s (Pella, IA) experiential learning program. Billie and I had both received leaves of absence from our teaching jobs to join them. We had no car, but we were bound and determined (Billie more than I) to witness the twice annual celebration of the equinox.

In historic Dzibilchaltun archaeologists discovered the amazing celestial sophistication of the sun-calendar of Mexico’s indigenous. The Mayans constructed a remarkable ceremonial building. Only on the days of equinox (Sept. 21 and March 21) did the sun come up at the precise angle that allowed it to shine fully through its two narrow doorways. [Similarly there were windows, diagonals from one another, designed so that the same thing happened at the bi-annual solstices!]

We caught the earliest bus north out of Merida on Sept. 21 hoping to witness the event. That bus left us off four miles from our destination, however, and the time factor made it seem unlikely that we could hoof it there on time. After a mile or two, our chances dimmed even more as the sky began to lighten with the approaching dawn. Then a car came barreling down the narrow road in the dark and slammed on its brakes.

“Do you need a lift?”

Yes! We both squeezed into the back seat of the vehicle already carrying four hippie-type European youths who were on the same mission. We arrived at the site just in time for me to take a photo of Billie framed by the rising sun shining through the structure’s doorways behind her. It’s one of her all-time favorite photos:

Later, on the walk back to the highway where the bus left us off, the Yucatan state patrol (who normally appear quite officious and stern) offered us a ride; they even pointed the best spot to stand in order to wave down the bus from Progresso on its return to Merida from the Gulf beach. They seemed quietly appreciative of our interest in their heritage.

We don't know what this fall will bring. May it be a good one. I hope that a dream you risk to achieve will come true for you. Keep dancin' in September!

Thanks, Jamie, for initiating "Take This Tune"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Susan Boyle sings "Wild Horses"

photo credit: 13/09/2009 got the scoop: Susan Boyle's newest release is a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." For now, if you want to hear it, you have to go to the Perez site:

WORLD PREMIERE! SuBo Does The Stones!!!!

It is worth the trip. Click the link above, or click the title of this post.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Iowa Pow Wow Action for the Labor Day Weekend

The Native American Nations converged here for dancing, singing, crafts, yummy food, and outdoor fun at the Labor Day Weekend Pow Wow. A forested hill towering above the Mississippi River was alive with regalia from tribes across the United States, sporting ribbons, feathers and bells galore at Black Hawk State Historic Site.

It was my first Midwestern PowWow, so I appreciated the announcements stating correct etiquette: stand as directed during important songs and dances, ask before taking individual's photos, don't touch the regalia, and feel free to add some money on the blankets at designated dances. Easy. I relaxed and enjoyed the proceedings.

The two-day event kicked off with a flourish at noon with the Grand Entrance. I hadn't expected the patriotic import given to four Native American veterans who formally led the procession carrying US and Vietnam MIA flags along with two flags representing local tribes.

The semi-annual event, sponsored by the Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities, hosted 2500 visitors last June with even more expected for this event. What with picture perfect weather and free admission to welcome the public, the sunlight-dappled clearing in the forest likely drew a new record-breaking--and appreciative--crowd.

We watched a variety of dances and even participated in a few! A beauty of the celebration was seeing the children taking part, learning pride in their heritage from observing their parents and elders. Two extremely short video clips (below) catch a glimpse of the drumming and the dancing--everyone danced!

But, I'm sorry I don't have any photos of the Indian Tacos! The taco meat, shredded Mexican cheeses, onions, sour cream, and salsa that crowned a lovely circle of Indian fry bread--well, it didn't last long enough to photograph.

Monday, September 7, 2009

September Song

My husband was 20 when his mom died. He and his 11 brothers and sisters lost their mom to cancer. His youngest sister was only 2 years old at the time of her mom's death.

Mr. B.E. recalls being called home as a college student to be present at his mother's deathbed. It was bittersweet because was unable to change the prognosis or prevent her death. But understandably, he still needed and wanted to be there.

By analogy, being present to the needs of those who are oppressed means being willing to be with them. Most likely, I cannot solve their problem--but by simply showing being there...I am where I need to be to symbolize where my heart is.

September Song was a favorite song of the father-in-law I never met as he recalled his first wife's premature death--each November. It is one of my husband's favorites, too.

With thanks for the memories to my blogging friend Jamie who began Take This Tune.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Just Check Your Fourth Amendment Rights at the Border

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit last week against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). CBP's policy allows them to search travelers' laptops--with NO suspicion of wrongdoing required! The ACLU would like more information about that. So would I.

It seems the CBP claims they have the right to read information on travelers' laptops "absent individualized suspicion." That allows them access to all files saved on anyone's laptop: personal financial information, photographs, histories of Web sites visited--everything. They don't need any reason--or even any suspicion to believe that a traveler has broken the law!

What's more, they're also asserting their right to search "documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices." [Note to self: Yikes, even my iTouch?]

And, by the way, don't think your U.S. birth certificate will protect you. This policy includes everyone crossing the border, whether or not they're U.S. citizens.

We're used to customs offices in the U.S. and other countries inspecting goods being brought into the nation. But it is a radical new step for the government to claim that it can also inspect the information being brought across our borders.

From the ACLU blog:

"In a DHS press release, Secretary Janet Napolitano said:

‘Keeping Americans safe in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully screen materials entering the United States.'

Clearly, by "materials," CBP now means electronic data as well as physical materials."

The damage to our personal privacy is profound. However, the assistance to the country's security is minimal. Because, the ACLU notes: Who is inspecting of all the data that enters the U.S. via the internet?

Therefore, says the ACLU blog:

Clearly this policy really has nothing to do with "securing the borders" of the United States in the sense of CBP's right to search and seize for contraband goods. Rather, it is about giving border agents sweeping new powers to peer into the lives and invade the privacy of individuals crossing the border.

So, US citizens, until this gets straightened out, you can check your rights to privacy at the border on your way in. And don't expect a claim check. It could be that your coat at a banquet is worth more than your privacy is worth at the border.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Anne LaMott to Obama on Healthcare: "You promised!"

Los Angeles Times OPINION

President Obama: Healthcare; you promised.

An open letter reminds the president of the major campaign vow that got him into the White House.

August 27, 2009

I am afraid there has been a misunderstanding since that election in 2008, during which 66,882,230 Americans cast their votes for you. Perhaps one of your trusted advisors has given you bum information. Maybe they told you that we voted for you -- walked, marched, prayed, fund-raised and knocked on doors for you -- because we hoped you would try to reunite the country. Of the total votes cast that long-ago November day, I'm guessing that about 1,575 people wanted you to try to reconcile the toxic bipartisanship that culminated in those Sarah Palin rallies.

The other 66,880,655 of us wanted universal healthcare.

You inherited a country that was in the most desperate shape since the Civil War, or the Depression, and we voted for you to heal the catastrophic wounds Bush inflicted on our country and our world. You said that you were up to that challenge.

We did not vote for you to see if you could get Chuck Grassley or Michael Enzi to date you. The spectacle of you wooing them fills us with horror and even disgust. We recoil as from hot flame at each mention of your new friends. Believe me, I know exactly how painful this can be, how reminiscent of 7th-grade yearning to be popular, because I went through it myself this summer. I did not lower my bar quite as low as you have, but I was sitting on the couch one afternoon, thinking that this adorable guy and I were totally on the same sheet of music -- he had given me absolutely every indication that we were -- and were moving into the kissing stage. Out of nowhere, I thought to ask him if he liked me in the same way I liked him.

He said, in so many words, no.

And Mr. President, that is what the Republicans are saying to you: They are just not that into you, sir.

This may have thrown you for such a loop that you have forgotten why you were elected -- which was to lead your people back to the promises of our founding parents. Many of us no longer recognized our country after eight years of Bush and Cheney, and you gave us your word that you would help restore the great headway we had made on matters of race, equality and plain old social justice.

People, get ready, you said; there's a train a 'coming. And we did get ready. We hit the streets. We roared, whispered, cried, whooped and went door to door, convinced that even if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had not
specifically dreamed of you, his dream of justice and equality and pride might come into being through your vision, your greatness, through the hope that your words gave us, through the change you promised.

He dreamed of a leader like you. Just like you. And something in the deepest part of this country's soul heard.

After eight years of Bush, and then the Palin nomination, we were battered and anguished and punch-drunk. But in rallying behind you, we came back to life, like in Ezekiel when the prophet breathes the spirit of bearing
witness and caring onto the dry bones, and those bones come back to life, become living people again, cherished and tended to.

We did not know exactly how you would proceed to restore our beloved Constitution. It seemed beyond redemption, like my kitchen floor did briefly last week after my dog, Bodhi, accidentally ate 24 corn bread muffins. You said you would push back your sleeves and begin, that it would take all of us working harder than we ever had before, but that you would lead. While acknowledging the financial and moral devastation of the last eight years, you said you would start by giving your people healthcare. You would do battle with the conservatives and insurance companies. You said in your beautiful way many times that this was the overarching moral and spiritual issue of our times, and we understood this to mean that you took this to be
your Selma, your Little Rock.

I hate to sound like a betrayed 7-year-old, but you said. And we believed you. Now you seem to have abandoned the dream. That is why moderates and liberals and progressives like myself all seem a little tense this summer. It is time to call your spirit back. We will be here to help when you get back from vacation. We want to help you get over the disappointment of Mr. Grassley's cold shoulder, of Mr. Enzi blowing you off, even that nice Olympia Snowe standing you up. We can and will take to the streets again, march and hold peaceful rallies, go door to door, donate to any causes that will help get out the truth of what a public option would mean. But we need you to shake off the dust of the journey and remember the promises of Dr.
King, and we need you to lead us toward what is no longer so distant a shore.

Do it for Teddy Kennedy, boss. Do it for the other Kennedys too, for Dr. King, for Big Mama, for the poorest kids you met on the trail, the kids who go to emergency rooms for their healthcare, do it for their mothers and for Michelle. Just do it.

Trusting you, Mr. Obama.

Anne Lamott
Copyright © 2009, <http://www.latimes. com/> The Los Angeles Times

Anne Lamott's latest book is "Grace (Eventually) : Thoughts on Faith." I listened to it on tape about this time last year, thanks to the encouragement of Fran who now writes on There Will Be Bread.
Anne is the bomb. Just my opinion.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hunger in the Heartland: Reflections from Our Food Pantry

The US Department of Ag's figures in May broke a record: 34.4 million people used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program of aid to low-income people. Now one out of every nine Americans qualifies for "food stamps." That's an increase of over 2 percent from the previous month. And it's a staggering increase of 6 million new qualifiers over the past year.

Our central city neighborhood runs a small food pantry that provides a food supplement to anyone who lives nearby. Once every 60 days a household can receive a box of food, whether or not they receive food stamps. One simply shows a photo ID to receive the free supplement of food. I volunteer at the pantry six hours a week; I see the face of hunger close to home.

From my "ringside seat" on the need in the heart of this nation, I know that the USDA figures are right. But they don't go far enough. They don't reveal the human degradation of being down so far that you must ask for food.

When I started working here a few years ago, I suspected that I'd be scammed or taken advantage of by people who were "working the system." There's some of that from time to time, but I am far more often impressed by the opposite phenomenon. Viewing the records as I check people in, I might comment to them: "We haven't seen you here since last year." And they respond: "I try not to come here unless I'm really in need." or "I don't like to come here too often. But I got laid off..."

Our numbers more than tripled last month, compared to last year. In August 2008 we served 23 households; August 2009 we served 81. We don't have a sponsoring organization, relying on free-will donations to provide funding for food that we can purchase for less than $.20 a pound at the River Bend Food Bank. Everyone who works at the pantry is a volunteer, as are the few women who head it up. We're just people helping other people.

Our patrons often share their stories with us, explaining their family's situation. We try to listen as best we can. When it's possible, we stretch the rules to provide for exceptional needs. Occasionally we encounter people who live in a tent or a car. We help families with kids, lots of single parents, the elderly and people who are challenged--mentally and physically. Sometimes I choke back tears. Sometimes I let them show.

Watching the news and volunteering in our neighborhood, I know that all is not well in our nation. You can read statistics. Or you can observe the reality at a local food pantry. I bet you'll benefit more from the latter. I know I do.