I pressed by body against the wall. I wedged in between the counter top and the industrial refrigerator. Fear, utter fear, gripped my body as I tore into the foil wrapper. The strangely shaped container was cold under my hand and the foil wrapper pulled back to reveal a creme white goop. I used my hands to eat the Boston Creme Pie yogurt. My fingers hurt and tore against the opening of the container. I should have used a spoon and I whinced in pain. My 9 year old mind told me, "don't use a spoon, don't leave evidence." I finished off the container and looked at the lettering. It read: Yoplait. Over the picture of a brown and yellow creme pie was scrawled the name, "Sarah". I don't even remember what it taste like. One moment I was looking in the community refrigerator and the next moment I was overcome with hunger, hurriedly eating and praying no one came into the kitchen. What I was eating didn't belong to me. It belonged to the lady two rooms down from me and my family. My mom, my brother, and I lived in the Enid YWCA. We fled from an abusive home, homeless, and found shelter in the Young Women's Christian Association. Her name was Sarah and she was only a couple of months postpartum. Her face was still bright with purple and red marks. She came to the YWCA to escape the father of her newborn. He liked to hit her, and it was one night too much of her face being his punching bag. I watched Sarah breastfeed her daughter in the media room. I remember her flaxen hair. She always had it pulled back in a purple banana clip. I was astounded at how small her daughter was. I followed Sarah around the shelter watching her, asking her questions, and being overall in awe with how beautiful she was underneath all her bruises. I finished the yogurt. I cried as I crammed the empty container inside the exposed refrigerator vent. I didn't want to be caught. I was eating someone else's food. It belonged to Sarah, not me. Shame washed over me. I knew I shouldn't take other people's things. I knew it was wrong to steal from Sarah. I liked Sarah. I was a nine year old child who had to choose between doing the right thing by Sarah or answering my hunger. Hunger won. The center required you buy your groceries, mark your name on them , and keep them in the community refrigerator. My family didn't have much. More than that, prior to coming to the center we were squeaking by on food stamps. Food stamps back then, just like now, weren't always enough to stretch and my brother and I frequently felt the sting of empty stomaches stretching to the next packet of colorful government paper bills.
This is the memory of a food insecure child.
Even after we found a semi-permanent home and we moved on from the YWCA, the reality was that my mom was a single woman with limited education and two kids. We survived on food stamps, local food pantries, and random acts of kindness. There were months that our families meals included all ingredients graciously given to us from church and community food organizations.
Today, I still carry guilt and shame and a survival reaction concerning food. My relationship with feeling deprived is a nebulous one. As a mother I struggle to imagine what my mother experienced. How do you tell your kid we don't have dinner tonight... and yet, my mother did on a regular basis.