We Ate Below The Poverty Line For 24 Hours - And Survived To Tell The Tale

We Ate Below The Poverty Line For 24 Hours - And Survived To Tell The Tale

"Here's $3 for breakfast, lunch and dinner...combined!"
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The poverty in Camden, New Jersey was unlike anything I have ever seen before. The rundown houses, abandoned businesses and trash-ridden streets looked like something out of a movie. Driving around, I frequently had to remind myself I was still within the boarders of the richest country in the world.

The day I ate like a resident of Camden is a day I will never forget. Over 973,000 of the people in Camden are living below the poverty line. This means that the average income for a resident is just $22,043 a year, less than one third of the median income for the rest of the state of New Jersey, which is around $70,000 per year.(http://www.city-data.com/city/Camden-New-Jersey.html) Over 72,000 people living in Camden have classified themselves as food insecure. This means that 72,000 Camden residents lack adequate access to food and are unsure of where their next meal will come from. The inconsistent access to food leads to a variety of health problems for people, including obesity, diabetes, and shorter life span. http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/new-jersey...

After working with the homeless and hungry population in Camden, myself and thirteen other volunteers from Merrimack College in North Andover, MA, decided to eat like some of the locals for the day.

Each of us were told to bring $3 on our service trip. For what, we had no idea. Bright and early Wednesday morning, we all gathered in the living room of the Romero Center, patiently waiting for the go ahead to start making breakfast and get the coffee brewing. However, we were instructed to gather in our groups of four (our “families”) and head out to the vans. We traveled to one of the two grocery stores in the entire city of Camden and were told to use our (collective) $12 to feed our family breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day. We were not allowed to eat or drink anything that we did not purchase that morning at the store (the Romero Center provided us with unlimited access to water, which is not always the case for people in Camden). Each family was given a slip of paper with a predetermined situation that limited the food items they were able to purchase. Some families had to buy strictly low sodium foods, while others had illegal immigrant members who could not contribute money to their grocery bill. Some families were homeless and had no access to kitchen appliances of any kind, and another had members with diabetes and had to steer clear of sugar and fruit. This put each person in the shoes of someone living like that in Camden every day. For my family in particular, we had to make breakfast, lunch and dinner for four, using a loaf of white bread, a jar of combined pb&j, a bag of potato chips, a half gallon of expired milk, a box of corn flakes and four bananas that we happened to find on sale. At first glance, this seems sustainable, but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a hearty side of dry cereal is hardly fun to eat three times.

Since coffee was way over budget and my family didn’t even have access to appliances, my participation at the service site I visited was not my best. Like many other Merrimack volunteers, I felt sluggish and out of it, unable to fulfill my goal of being fully present and in the moment. Caisie Wynot, a volunteer from Merrimack, explained that, “after [her] day of living on this budget, [she] had a headache, felt sick and couldn’t contribute to group activities” and couldn’t imagine herself as a student in Camden, attending school and eating like that everyday. As a group, our eyes were opened to the harsh realities of hunger in America.

We only participated in this challenge for 24 hours, so it should have hardly been taxing on our minds or bodies. However, as young adults with affluent resources at our fingertips in our own homes, this was a whole new world for us all. The food we were able to purchase was less than nutritious for the day. Imagine having to buy the most processed, artificial food in the grocery store because that’s all you could afford, and would rather your family eat that than go hungry. This is a reality for so many people in America that most choose to ignore. The human body needs oxygen, food, and water (among other things) to survive. While the air we breathe is seemingly free, the basic necessities of food and water are treated as a luxury. American citizens that need help are being deprived of food to sustain a nutritious life. Teens and adults cannot cognitively perform to their best abilities and poverty and obesity are continuing to correlate. According to http://www.orphannutrition.org/understanding-malnutrition/impact-of-malnutrition-on-health-and-development/, children deprived of essential nutrients in their first few years of life can suffer from a multitude of complications, including a compromised immune system, stunted growth, and delays in motor and cognitive development. In the country of equal opportunity, we are taking away chances of success from every child living under the poverty line in America.

As angry as this information may make you, it cannot stop there. Awareness and anger are the first steps to changing the way the government aids people in need of food assistance. Get involved at the local level. Help out in a shelter or food bank in your area. Donate nutritious food. Educate everyone around you about the horrors of hunger in America. Many people ignore this situation because it seems too hard for just one person to change. But one person spreading awareness and serving others can have a ripple effect. Educate, anger, and inspire others to make a difference with you. And on your journey to change the world, keep people like those in Camden, New Jersey in your thoughts and prayers.

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To The Girl Who Isn't Graduating On Time, It Won't Feel Any Less Amazing When You Do

Graduating is something to be proud of no matter how long it takes you.

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To the girl who isn't graduating college "on time,"

I promise, you will get there eventually, and you will walk across that graduation stage with the biggest smile on your face.

You may have a different journey than the people you grew up with, and that is OKAY. You may have some twists and turns along the way, a few too many major changes, a life change, you may have taken most of a semester off to try to figure your life out, and you're doing the best you can.

Your family and your friends don't think less of you or your accomplishments, they are proud of your determination to get your degree.

They are proud of the woman you are becoming. They don't think of you as a failure or as someone any less awesome than you are. You're getting your degree, you're making moves towards your dreams and the life that you have always wanted, so please stop beating yourself up while you see people graduating college on time and getting a job or buying a car.

Your time will come, you just keep doing what you need to do in order to get on that graduation stage.

Your path is set out for you, and you will get there with time but also with patience. The place you're at right now is where you are supposed to be. You are going to thrive and you are going to be the best version of you when you graduate and start looking for a company that you will be proud to work for. Don't look on social media and feel less than, because at least you're still working towards your degree that you are finally passionate about. You will be prepared. You will be ready once the time comes and you cross the stage, move away, and start your journey in whatever field you're going into.

Don't question yourself, and be confident in your abilities.

With love,

A girl who isn't graduating on time

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The College Experience

A series telling the true experiences of modern day college students.

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Everyone tells you to prepare for the best years of your life.

They tell you to prepare for all of the new challenges and new opportunities.

They say that you will meet your future people in college.

What they don't tell you is how much it will hurt.

Seeing old friends disappear because you are no longer home.

Watching your grades fall because the class is too difficult to pass.

Hearing and witnessing your family struggle and you aren't able to be with them.

Seeing all of the adventures that others are going on while you are stuck in your dorm room with the same stack of papers you have been trying to finish for three days now.

They don't tell you how difficult the transition will be.

They especially don't tell you how hard it is to live with someone.

The best of friends can live together and then grow to hate each other.

Complete strangers will move in and never speak.

You'll find friends that are simply just your "writing friend" or "band friend".

Many of the labels from high school can sometimes stick around.

If you're not out drinking or clubbing, then people think you don't have a life.

College is great, but don't think that it will be easy.

You have to make things easy in order for things to happen.

You can't just go around doing whatever and expect things to work out.

It takes time and it takes commitment to succeed in life, and in college.

The best way to deal with it all, find someone!

Find someone that you can get coffee with and watch sports with.

Find someone to eat dinner and lunch with.

Find someone to study religion and math before the next test.

Find someone!

Find your someone, a friend or someone special, to help you make it through everything that life throws at you.

If I had that someone I might have been better off my first year.

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