In May, my family participated in our area’s CROP Walk to raise awareness of local and global hunger issues and to raise money for organizations that feed the hungry and work towards an end to hunger. Our participation in the five-mile walk went the way that one might expect with a five-year-old and almost three-year-old insistent on walking. For the first thirty minutes we enjoyed a lovely walk along the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, identifying spring wildflowers as the girls skipped along the path with the other walkers. Then without warning, as life with a toddler goes, our younger daughter was done, and the return trip consisted of coaxing her with games and piggyback rides. In one game, we took turns pretending to be a train engine from Thomas the Train, while the rest of us were passenger cars. When it was my turn to lead (I was Belle, in case you’re wondering), I began chanting “Chugga chugga choo choo…no more hunger…”
My older daughter stopped our trained and first declared that Belle has a bell that dings; she does not ‘choo choo’. Oh, right.
Then she asked, “Mom, what is hunger?”
I paused, looking at her quizzically. We participated in the CROP Walk as a family last year. We remember to pray for those who are hungry at our meals. We bring food for the local food pantry, and help with our parish’s community garden. Each Lent we prepare the meals on the Operation Rice Bowl site. She has watched me lead teenagers in Box City retreats to raise awareness of homelessness and hunger.
But apparently, to be hungry, in her mind, is the feeling she experiences between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and snack, and snack and dinner, and dinner and breakfast the next day. When we have prayed for those who are hungry, we have prayed for those who experience being hungry in the way that she has experienced that sensation.
I felt a deep sadness as I fumbled over an answer to her question. Hunger, I said, is having an empty belly at breakfast time, and lunchtime and dinnertime – but having no food to eat. Hunger is being thirsty, but not having clean drinking water. Hunger is being too weak to fight off sicknesses.
As we continued playing our games along the walk, I felt a responsibility to help my children understand such reality, and in doing so, to deepen my own commitment to creating a more just world. “O, Lord, teach me to be generous,” prays St. Ignatius, and I along with him.
Alyssa Pasternak Post lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Jeff and their two young daughters. Both are graduates of Wheeling Jesuit University (2002) and of the University of Dayton (2011), and Alyssa is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Jersey City, NJ – ’02 – ’03). She credits her Appalachian roots, along with experiences of rural poverty in Appalachia and Haiti during college and of urban poverty in Jersey City, as formative in her hopes to parent with justice. She has ministered in Catholic high schools and in parishes, seeking in each locale to live the magis. At present Alyssa is filled with gratitude for a few years of stay-at-home parenting (including a one-year adventure in homeschooling) and now works in full-time ministry among children, youth, and families at an urban Episcopal church.