Mel Hioki, one of CUMAC’s Board Members, wrote and illustrated a children’s book called The Other Side of the Pond. It’s a book I really enjoy. It’s about two communities of frogs living in the same pond. The communities are very similar, but one group of frogs has an abundance of food, while the other group struggles to find anything to eat. The two communities have never met because they are afraid of what’s on the other side of the pond, but one day that all changes and so goes the story.
Mel wrote the book as a way of starting a conversation about hunger and that’s exactly what’s been happening. Over the last year, Mel and I have read the book at libraries around the state. After every reading we’ll not only talk to the audience about the story, but we’ll also talk about hunger and ways they can help fight it. We’ve had some great discussions over the last few months, but one exchange in particular inspired me to share this with you today.
Mel and I were finishing up one of our talks at a local library, asking the audience what they had learned from the story. After some thoughtful answers, a father in attendance spoke up. He said, “Don’t be afraid to tell someone you’re hungry.” Right away, the kids and parents in the crowd turned to him. “It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” he said. “If you’re hungry, you can talk to someone. They might be able to help.” Everyone nodded in approval and our conversation continued.
After Mel and I wrapped up for the afternoon, that same man approached me as we were packing up our materials. “Thank you for coming today,” he said. “Your lesson, the story — really hit home for me. When I was a kid I was hungry. My mom was a single-parent, she did the best that she could, but we had stretch our meals out a lot. We had to make the rice and eggs last, you know? It was hard.” I could hear the intensity in his voice. I was speechless. He continued. “Back then I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody. That’s why I said what I said earlier. I wanted the kids to know that. I’m glad you two came today and my boys could learn about hunger.”
We talked for a few minutes until it was time for his family to go, but this conversation has stuck with me. This man faced hunger at a time when there was no conversation about it. He couldn’t talk about his hunger back then or how it made him feel. What a grueling weight to carry. For many, that same struggle is happening now. For many, the stigma around hunger continues. We see it all the time with community members who are afraid to visit CUMAC’s pantry or ask for help. But through Mel’s book and our discussions, it feels like some of those walls are coming down, at least for a little while. And we need that more than ever because hunger is a silent crisis that affects 1 in 7 people in the United States. That’s 48 million Americans, 1 in 5 children. Too many of them are silently suffering, unaware that help is there for them. We need to stop the stigma. We need to be able to talk about hunger, honestly and openly, and keep the conversation going.
We have so much to gain from talking about the hunger crisis. I challenge you to take a look around and start a conversation about hunger in your circle this month — not just with your friends or family, but with your local representatives and businesses, librarians, teachers or anyone who may want to listen. You never know where that discussion might go or who might be on the other side.
To learn more about Mel and The Other Side Of The Pond visit our book page.