I placed the loaf of sourdough down on the belt, right next to the pound of grass-fed ground beef, and began to fish in my pocket for my wallet. The woman scanning the groceries, who I will call Patty, clutched the loaf and pulled it over the bar code scanner. We both gazed longingly at the overpriced bread. And for a brief moment I felt so fortunate to be able to afford the luxury of buying such a beautiful item as this. My daughters will be so happy, I thought to myself (they love sourdough).
Patty scanned the rest of my groceries and recited my total aloud. “Sixteen-oh-four, please,” she stated mildly. With my credit card poised between my finger and thumb, I stood just about to pull it through the magnetic card reader. Suddenly the question came: “Would you like to donate one dollar to ‘Meals on Wheels’ today?” asked Patty, holding her finger over a button on the register. With her other hand, she pointed to a small sign taped to the back of her register. It looked something like this:
“Um, yes,” I responded. “I would like to donate. I guess we’d all better donate before it gets cut from the budget.”
You see, my grandmother is a current recipient of the federal anti-poverty program for seniors known as “Meals on Wheels.” She spent her life raising three daughters (my mom is the eldest), owning her own business (a beauty salon), and being a generally productive citizen. She and my grandfather, who worked various agricultural jobs, were not monetarily rich. But they were both hard-working, honest folks. They attended church on Sunday, and my grandfather sold Christmas trees in the winter. When my grandfather died in 1982, he left my grandmother a modest pension. At age 96, she is mostly able to make ends meet on her own. Mostly. But ‘Meals on Wheels’ helps, just that little bit.
So when I heard this program is slated to be part of a series of budget cuts by the new federal government, naturally I was angered. Angered and worried.
“Oh, I don’t think ‘Meals on Wheels’ will be cut,” offered Patty. And she was serious.
“You don’t?” I asked, incredulous. How can she say that?
“Oh no, I really don’t,” she calmly replied. “And if it is, the states will step up and find a way to fund it. And if the states don’t step up, then people will band together and make sure it doesn’t go away.” And then it came: “You just have to have faith.”
I left the store that day wondering three things: First, with all I’ve seen in our body politic lately, I’m not sure I do have faith. Not like that. Secondly, I’m not sure I should have faith…should I? Will state governments find a way to help seniors like my grandmother if the federal government slashes all the programs designed to help poor people, like they’re currently planning to do? Would regular folks really organize to prevent these programs from falling by the wayside? Should I have that kind of faith? Really?
But Patty did. She really did. So the third thing I wondered was…how can she have that kind of faith?