In the U.S. there are over sixteen million children who live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. According to Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry, these kids often experience serious health issues, emotional and behavioral problems.
The harsh reality is, these kids do not look forward to their summer break from school. For under-privileged children in America, no school means no breakfast or lunch. For them, summer is their most vulnerable time of the year.
I know this is true because in the summer of 1986, I met an eleven year-old boy living at the Bryant Hotel. We lived only two blocks away, yet we came from two vastly different worlds.
When I passed Maurice on a New York City street corner, he said, “Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change, I am hungry.” At first I said “no” and kept walking. But then I went back to the young boy and offered to buy him lunch.
We shared lunch that summer day, and we wound up meeting every Monday for the next four years, and hundreds of times after that.
We started getting together on Monday nights. It became our weekly ritual, and over the months we became unlikely friends and I learned how dire Maurice’s life really was.
One Saturday Maurice called me from my lobby phone. He told me he was very hungry, and he wanted to know if I could take him to lunch. He explained when he was that hungry, it felt like he was being punched in the stomach.
Over lunch I came up with a plan. I suggested I could give him money to eat throughout the week, or if he preferred, we could go the supermarket together and I would buy him all the things he loved to eat and I would make him lunch and leave it with the doorman for him to pick up.
Maurice said, “I don’t want your money. Can you please make me lunch and put it in a brown paper bag?”
When I asked him why he wanted his lunch in a brown paper bag, Maurice said that he wanted his lunch in a brown paper bag because when kids came to school and they had their lunch in a brown paper bag that meant someone cared about them.
So Maurice taught me a valuable lesson. To many children, the bag is only brown paper. But to others, it’s much more than a bag because of what we put inside it — something called love.
Tragically, one in five kids in America go to sleep hungry. These daunting statistics are not just numbers; they represent real children like Maurice, who are trapped by hardship and poverty, and like so many children, there is no out of their dire situation.
But for every hungry child like Maurice, there is someone who can make a real difference.
Maurice and I are so proud that a portion of An Invisible Thread’s paperback sales are donated to Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry (www.nokidhungry.org), an organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America.
Imagine an America where eating is no longer a luxury for children. Together, we can make that America a reality.
Laura Schroff is the author of “An Invisible Thread” and “An Invisible Thread Christmas Story” for children, to be released September 22, 2015.