An Advocate for Life
Kathleen Shapley-Quinn became dedicated to fighting hunger when, in high school, she discovered the movement called “Bread for the World”, which is invested in hunger relief advocacy. She has worked since then for that cause in all sorts of ways. Here at PORCH, her advocacy is invaluable.
What does she do? She brings stamps, postcards, lists of immediate problems that our political representatives, state and local, need to address now, and sits us down between bagging and carrying to write to those who can, and should, implement change for the better. She keeps her eye on emerging problems in the national and state sphere and listens as others bring her their concerns.
Kathleen came to PORCH with the idea of a double advocacy…not only feeding the hungry through our all-volunteer, neighborhood food gathering, but also to take advantage of sort-time to send those messages to those who can bring change not only locally, but to everyone in need.
She gives me a broad smile when she says, “And the PORCH board listened and said yes!” It seemed natural to work for those issues, too, since hunger is always driven by other needs.
“The great thing about PORCH,” she says, “is its wrap-around service to the complexity of life for those in need,” and adds, “because pretty much everyone is potentially in need at some time in their lives.”
Right. We are nudged to think, especially at the holiday season, of those in continuous need of help, but it somehow escapes us that sometimes people need a hand in those times when health or sudden job loss or a family tragedy throws them into a life without the security they once had. It could be any of us, too.
We could make a wheel putting food at the hub, controlling these and other issues as the many spokes. But that would only be a chart to look at.
Kathleen, who came to North Carolina from Detroit 36 years ago with her husband for a medical school and residency, is a family physician whose 15 years of work in health department clinics provides daily examples of people living on that wheel. The simplest is a parent with children who, in order to work, needs:
- child care
- appropriate clothing
- a stable and safe environment
- continuing education
- fair wages for fair work
- health benefits, affordable and easily accessed
- a chance at a decent retirement later in life
Which can one secure first? But there are so many more complex situations: What if someone in the family becomes disabled or is incarcerated, or there are older or younger family members who need care? What if a house is lost by natural disaster, or the absence of affordable space, or the carelessness of a community or landlord…what becomes of his/her family the breadwinner is struggling to support? The wheel begins to turn again. It’s difficult, even when one issue is ameliorated, to get back into the safety we all require to live a healthy life.
The complexity of those needs surrounding hunger are so many, often ones we don’t think of, and they are related to one another like close cousins…no, like immediate family, really. Kathleen ticks them off to me…she knows them by heart.
- Food and the young…how do children grow if families cannot afford adequate nutrition for them? Women who care for children are especially vulnerable, when care and income become inversely proportionate. What happens when one has to choose between a meal or medicine? (Don’t forget that elders have that problem, too).
- Hunger impacts education, both of children, who cannot focus on schoolwork (or who may not be able to be in school) and their parents trying to better themselves.
- And hunger is surely the problem which arises when fair wages are not paid. Even the opportunities for employment are minimized for the hungry, though too many people think of the homeless, Why don’t they just get a job? We think of ourselves as equals, but there are always invisible social biases at work.
She says, “My dream is to find a way to make PORCH unnecessary.” To bring communities and society to an equitable thinking. To encourage voices and votes from everyone, especially PORCH recipients who really do know the issues first-hand and are living them…what better experts? And to see beyond the borders of our small social circles.
“I heard an economist once at a Bread for the World conference talk about goals for communities wanting to create food-secure populations,” she relates. “His words have stuck in my mind.”
1. Be more welcoming. (Support immigrants as they build a new life – one which we all benefit from.)
2. Be more forgiving. (Once people have served their prison time, provide them with opportunities without resentment.)
3. Be more just. (Pay people a living wage.)
4. Be more equitable. (Be on guard for institutionalized biases that hinder progress among certain populations.)
5. Be more compassionate (Recognize the inherent vulnerability of life and be ready to give people a hand up when they fall on hard times.)
You won’t be surprised to hear that the Shapley-Quinns’ daughters have benefited from such parents. One works for RTI, a women’s global health initiative, and one, with her husband and two children, farm organically. There is a wheel shaping up there, too, but at its hub is the care we need to have for one another, near and far, the kind communities like PORCH work toward every day.