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Least of these

By Sarah Baker

It was sixth grade, and I probably weighed sixty pounds soaking wet.  The rowdy cafeteria was being monitored by Coach Mike White, whose piercing blue-eyed stare and thunderous voice left no need for a whistle or a megaphone.  I was hungry and grouchy, looking at the length of the line from the back. “I’m hungry!”  I whined.  Then I heard White’s booming voice yell “Baker!” and turned to see him pointing at me and gesturing for me to come.  I just knew I was about to be bawled out in front of God and the entire school.  Then Coach White put his hand on my shoulder and escorted me to the front of the line.  You see, he realized that I wasn’t just some whiney kid, that I actually was hungry.  I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.

Recently, schools have made some positive changes to make lunches and available snacks healthier for kids.  Previously, they were over-loaded with calories.  Let us not forget, however, that, for some kids, it really is the only meal they will have all day.  I wasn’t always as hungry as I was that day.   My mother frequently cooked some amazing southern food.  The thing is- my mother couldn’t always be there.  Both of my parents were very unhealthy from the time I was little.  Mom survived a stroke and colon cancer when I was in elementary school.  Then when I was eleven, my dad was diagnosed with emphysema.  He died when I was sixteen.  Although I know I was a loved child, hospital stays and doctor visits meant that my needs sometimes fell through the cracks.  Before my dad was approved for disability, our family was temporarily on welfare.

Because of my situation, my grades in school slipped terribly.  Living in a small house with a dying man made it impossible to do homework.  In some classes, I could still coast by, but I floundered in others.  I failed geometry and had to drop out of Algebra II and take consumer math in order to graduate on time.  In no way, shape, form, or fashion would it have helped my family to have our benefits tied in any way, shape, form or fashion to my performance in school.  It would have been cruel to put that kind of pressure on a kid who was already dealing with poverty and the death of her father. Nor do I think it would have been fair to my dying father or his caretaker, my mother.

As a mother, as a teacher, as a survivor of poverty, and as a Christian, I am grossly offended by Senator Campfield’s recent proposition that would reduce benefits for families because a child is struggling academically.  There are just too many factors involved.  I cannot wrap my brain around the cold heart that would put adult burdens on the shoulders of children.  Period.

Remember not everyone who receives benefits is part of an endless cycle of poverty.  Each of my mother’s children is now a contributing member of society.  Three of us went to Europe together this summer.  Even if that weren’t so, we are taught in scripture that whatever we do unto the least of these, we do unto Him.  Not the most motivated.  Not the most likely to give back…..the least of these.  As one who was once considered least, I pray that this bill will not pass.

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