I was in middle school before I realized that my family was poor — what we today call the ‘working poor.’ My dad was a truck driver with an eighth-grade education, and my mom a housewife who stayed home to raise four kids. At one point she sold Avon to try and help pay the bills. I never went hungry, but my mom did. I remember times when she would say to my dad, who’d spent a long day unloading groceries from his delivery truck, ‘honey, you eat the rest. I’m not very hungry tonight.’  She was something, my mom.

When you’ve been poor, you don’t take lightly the statistics that show poverty is, unfortunately, alive and well in our country. But as someone who works in public policy, I also know it’s important to look at the data to have an informed picture of what we’re dealing with. That’s a requirement before setting forth a plan to attack the problem. That’s why I paid close attention to the data presented during the Feb. 8 virtual Shaftesbury Society by NC State economist Dr. Mike Walden. 

The key question posed: Is it true that 20% of kids go hungry?

Dr. Walden’s book, on which his presentation was based, gives us the bottom line: (emphasis is mine)

Rather than hunger being defined as not having enough to eat, the new definition of hunger includes adults and children not eating a balanced diet — for example, a diet low in fruits and vegetables. In other words, hunger has been expanded to include the quality of the food, not just the quantity. If the definition of hunger is simply to getting enough quantity of food to eat, then government statistics show about 1% of children are hungry. 

That’s not to say that 1% is good. It’s bad. But it is far better, far more hopeful, than 20%.

The challenge is for each of us to step up. Locke’s Brooke Medina brought important perspective to the Shaftesbury forum when she talked about the role of individuals and communities in lifting up the human spirit.