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Children shouldn’t have to eat dog food

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POSTED December 16, 2009 1:29 a.m.

As a kid, I thought it was just weird.

There was a family of four boys that lived directly across the alley. Their dad was a laborer and their mom stayed at home.

They lived in a home without a foundation. I thought they were no different than me. We’d do what kids did before it became politically incorrect as we played everything from combat, hide and seek, to cowboys and Indians. Sometimes we’d play baseball by the parish hall. I should say they played, while I tried to do so.

We kept dry Purina Dog Chow on our patio so it was easier to feed Rusty in his pen. One day one of my brothers caught two of the kids eating the dog food. My brother made fun of them and told everyone he could think of including my mom about what had happened.

Mom just dismissed it as boys being boys. Then she suggested that since the two kids were right around my age that I might want to invite them over for lunch every once in awhile. That was a big deal since mom – who was working six to seven days a week after dad died – had a rule that when she was working we were supposed to not have any friends in the house.

I had no idea then that our neighbors were having a difficult time putting food on the table. Food was never an issue for us but Mom still struggled to make ends meet.

Our neighbor Elsie was always cooking dishes for various neighbors. Again, I never gave it another thought until years later. She always made sure that during the course of a week that the elderly couple that lived in a little house on the alley had a hot meal and that the neighbors behind us did too. We got our share as well. In fact, just thinking of Elsie’s Portuguese enchiladas is another to make me think about seriously deep-sixing being a vegetarian.

I honestly was pretty much oblivious to people not having enough to eat until one Thanksgiving when I volunteered to help at Lincoln’s community dinner. We started at about 7 in the morning. I was ready to call it quits after the food was prepared and they were ready to serve when the organizer said one of the people who had volunteered to deliver meals to shut-ins was unable to do so.

I had just five stops. It was the fifth and final stop that got to me.

It was an elderly lady who had emigrated from Mexico some 50 years earlier who was living in one of the five apartments that had been created inside the original stone roundhouse for the railroad built in 1858.

I knocked on the door and was ushered into the first one-room studio apartment I had ever seen. It was more like a big box. Several bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling. It was sparse yet clean. She had limited English, I had limited Spanish. She was extremely happy to have both food and a visitor. She coaxed me into staying for awhile and we tried to converse. Finally, she asked me to say a blessing with her before. I excused myself.

I found out later that her husband had died a few years earlier after working for years for area ranchers. The priest at St. Joseph’s told me that he heard she had two sons. One died in the Korean War and they had no idea where the other was. She was, according to the priest, barely making ends meet to stay alive.

I just couldn’t come to grips that somebody’s mother – or grandmother – was going hungry.

I learned from talking with the priest that it wasn’t unusual in Lincoln for people like Elsie – or my mother – to go out of their way to make sure others who were having worse trials and tribulations than they were got some help.

Knowing that much hasn’t really changed in that there are people out there not getting enough food is why I doubled down with my Turkeys R Us donation this year.  I know I’m a bit of an odd duck as I’ve avoided any type of traditional family holiday meal gathering for the past five years. It doesn’t really bother me. I’ll have my usual meals and won’t be going to sleep hungry on Christmas night.

I couldn’t, however, sleep peacefully Christmas night knowing that is not the case when it comes to someone’s kids or grandparents.

If you can afford to help, there’s still some time left.

Donations (make checks out to Turkeys R Us) can be dropped off at Coldwell Banker Crossroads offices at 319 Main Street near North Street in Manteca or 15810 S. Harlan Road in Lathrop or the Second Harvest Food Bank, 704 E. Industrial Park Drive in Manteca.

If you want to donate a frozen turkey or ham, take it directly to the food bank

For more information contact Crossroads Real Estate at 823-8141 or the food bank at 239-2091.

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