September 11, 2020

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

It is essential to help families struggling from hunger

David Bethuram

Feeding those in need is an ongoing effort for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Hunger is something we all understand, but for those struggling to make ends meet, choosing between heat, medicine or food can become a never-ending cycle.

September is National Hunger Awareness Month. Hunger is complex and often misunderstood. I’d like to share a story about Kimberly and her three children that may bring an aspect of hunger that may not be so obvious in our society.

Kimberly didn’t feel hungry, not in the way you might expect. Her tummy grumbled, yes, she could hear it. She just couldn’t feel it. She called it “starvation mode.” Kimberly had hit a low point. But she needed to provide for her children, who are just entering their teens.

By the time she was faced with the prospect of watching her own children go without, she had fallen out of contact with her parents and the rest of her family.

She’d wanted a fresh start. Except that at that moment, a fresh start was looking far off. Her boyfriend had left, and her benefits were falling short. Now and again, she took paid housework jobs but never made enough money. She would scan her cupboards in despair, hoping there would be enough soup or cans of beans to at least get the next lunch together.

Because there was always so little to go around, it didn’t take long before she started skipping meals. The effects soon materialized. She was tired all the time—and yet she couldn’t sleep. She was hungry, but she didn’t want to eat, and, if she did, she would sometimes be sick. Her head was frazzled. It was hard to keep a string of thoughts together.

Kimberly was exhausted, but desperate not to reveal the extent of her fatigue to her children. So she would walk around the house with one hand on the furniture, holding herself steady. A severe iron deficiency, she eventually learned, accounted for the terrible fatigue and it had also made her dizzy. The dizziness was constant, in fact. All of this went on for about two years.

But it wasn’t her own well-being that she worried about most. It was her children’s. Try as she might, she couldn’t hide from them the fact that she wasn’t well. They asked her questions: Why was she dizzy all the time? Why was she taking those pills from a doctor?

One day she came home to find a glass of milk on the table. Her son, worried about her, had poured it. He made her drink it while he watched—to make sure she had it all.

She said to herself it shouldn’t be this way. Her kids should not be worrying about their mother like that. Her biggest concern was not her physical health, but what it did to her children’s mental health. Imagine the psychological scars that were left in the wake of watching their mother starve herself?

What happened to Kimberly and her family is common to far more households than some may think. Food insecurity, also known as food poverty, is on the rise. According to Feeding America, there are 883,260 people who are struggling with hunger in Indiana—and of them 274,080 are children. One in six children struggles with hunger.

Scientists have shown hunger during childhood can have long-term physical and psychological consequences. Catholic Charities finds it essential to help families struggling with hunger from all dimensions, including their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, while encouraging them in attaining their education and job goals.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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