A Saving Grace in Salem, MA: Part I

When my husband and I would feel our stomachs stir with hunger we would walk down to the LifeBridge Shelter in Salem, MA to eat both our lunch as well as our supper. Many times, no matter what time of the day it was, the lines were long — over 300 meals were served daily. In between our “dates” at the shelter, we usually went our separate ways. My husband went to work. I went hunting for a job, or to apply for assistance to move into an apartment, or visit with my elderly mother and help her with what she needed with our limited resources. I would also help our daughter, who is a single mother with two small children. At the end of a long day we would saunter back to our room, whether it was in a rooming house or at the Lafayette Hotel, and make plans to conquer the next day. However, at least we were not without food to keep us moving forward. It was a true blessing that the shelter had a program called “Break Bread Together” — which is a community meal program not just for the residents of the homeless shelter, but for anyone in Salem who is hungry.

According to the USDA, food insecurity is when “an individual or a family is lacking in nutritional, safe foods as well as the ability to acquire food and no access or barely any access to availability of food at all times.” Honestly, I know there have been many times for my family, and for other families, when the pantry and the cupboards are basically bare (which makes them easier to clean). However, when I did visit the Break Bread Together Community Program, I had neither pantry nor refrigerator to clean. Though my husband and I were not technically considered homeless at that point in our lives, we really were. We had no home of our own and though we previously had raised our children, who resided with us at all times, our youngest daughter was staying at her older sister’s house. Occasionally we would sneak our daughter into our room for the night just so we could feel like a family, even if temporarily. One thing was for certain: my husband and I had a place to go to eat a nutritious meal. Back then, we were allowed to bring some food back with us. We shared it with my elderly mother and our daughters.

Food insecurity can be caused due to lack of income or ineligibility for Food
Stamps; since the formula used to qualify for food stamps goes by the gross family income instead of the net family income. This makes too many American families wonder each night, “What’s for supper?” According to the USDA 2007 report on food security, 4.7 million household members had disrupted and reduced food intake from their normal eating patterns. 2.7 % of food insecure households were able to eat one or more meals at a community kitchen in their communities. The number of families cutting back in order to provide for their family is becoming a national stain upon our society. That stain from 2007 could be growing larger due to the recent economy. Listed below are just some of the other USDA statistics.

97 % worried the food they bought
would not last and they did not have
money to buy more.

94% reported they could not eat balanced

93% had eaten less due to limited
food in the household.

Per the statistics, food insecurity is if anytime during the previous 12 months a family has endured lack of food and worry about food.

Hunger is an epidemic within the United States whether people are homeless or not. Community eating programs such as the “Break Bread Together” at LifeBridge serves a group that does not know where their next meal may come from. This program does cost money, and according to a 2009 report of LifeBridge’s food budget of $155,000 dollars, the government only covered 1/3 of the actual expenses. With donations of either food or money this program has thrived, and a thriving program allows individuals and families like mine to thrive as well. Thanks, LifeBridge.

Tammy Anne Callahan-Callanan is a mother and grandmother who lives in Salem. She majored in creative writing and English literature at Salem State University. She writes columns regularly for the Salem Gazette and other publications. Find her on Facebook by searching for Salempoet’s Writing Page