Have you ever been so hungry that it caused you physical pain?
I’m not talking the kind of hunger that sneaks up when you’ve realized you haven’t eaten all day because you’ve been busy. I’m talking about when you haven’t eaten a real meal in a week or more. When you can’t focus on anything except the rumbling deep in your belly, begging you to give it something, anything.
I felt this way almost the entire time I was facing homelessness. The first two weeks, I carefully and slowly ate a limited supply of saltines and lime Jell-O, a diet some girls my age might adopt to fit into their prom dresses, but this is what I had to survive on.
I was still playing sports and had to walk to and from the bus stop and work, so I was burning off far more calories than I was putting into my body. When paired with my already fast metabolism, I dropped weight rapidly.
Eventually, I became so hungry that I just wasn’t hungry anymore. When I could get food, it was hard to eat, but I wouldn’t dream of wasting even a crumb of it and ate everything on my plate.
If I could, I would hoard any extra food I was given because I didn’t know when the next time I would have something to eat would be. I couldn’t focus on anything, I didn’t have energy, and I was sleeping in the classes I could get away with sleeping in.
My school counselor was aware of my problem, but he blamed me for my mother kicking me out and told me I should “just go back.” He did not offer me reduced or free lunch, did not bring up McKinney-Vento or find me assistance in anyway. He wasn’t concerned about why I was kicked out or if there was abuse in the home or where I was living since it wasn’t at a home like a “normal” high school student. Therefore, school lunches were not an option for me to get at least a meal a day to fuel my body.
Sometimes I was able to buy a dollar cheeseburger from McDonald’s with the spare change I would find on the street or what my friends would drop and leave because it was just a nickel or dime and had no value to them—but to me it was a nickel or a dime closer to eating something with more substance than I had in days.
In college, I still faced food insecurity. I had to choose between paying my bills or buying groceries. Now, in my mid-20s, I still fight the urge to hoard food, despite living in a stable home of my own and having my needs met.
This experience has allowed me to understand others who face similar problems, and I reach out to those who struggle to give them a few meals, tell them what I learned that can help, and to say that it gets so much better.