BROWNSVILLE, September 28 - They are good kids. They meet regularly as a youth group and do things together. Last year, they helped bring a public smoking ban to their city.
The year before that, they initiated a community-wide trash pickup. Tons of broken appliances, used auto tires, mattresses and other casualties of modern life were carted away.
Now they are working on a Get Out the Vote effort, with an eye toward a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that could bring substantial resources for flood control to their neighborhood (which happens to lie in a flood plain).
The teenagers are serious about their work, but their adult leader and sponsor decided that they needed to do what most other youth groups do all of the time—socialize. The leader scraped together some money and took the kids to the dollar movie.
“I hadn’t realized,” she told me, “That they can’t afford to even go to the dollar show. It was like they had gone to heaven.”
“So, of course,” she continues, "I knew that I had to take them to get something to eat. I had a little bit of money left over, so we went to the Taco Bell. I ordered the tacos, two each for the girls, three for the guys—we laughed at the guys because they were so hungry. And then there were five tacos left over. The kids are good, and they are shy, so no one would take an extra taco. Finally, the shyest kid in the group looks around and says, ‘If it is ok, I would like to take them home to my sisters.’"
The leader smiles as she tells me this story. “Imagine that, a thirteen year old admitting to all of her friends that her family is hungry, loving her sisters enough to risk being made fun of . . .she is a good kid.”
Five cold tacos. One brave big sister. And hunger.
Quite the different story in Washington, where last week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would take food stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) from nearly three million Americans. Eric Cantor justified the measure as a way to “put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence.”
217 members of Congress voted to take food from poor families.
217 cold hearts. 217 small souls. And three million daily moments of hunger.
Michael Seifert is a community activist who lives in Brownsville, Texas. The above column first appeared in Seifert's blog, http://alongsideaborder.blogspot.mx/